Defense Generates Four Sacks; Money Interception Sets up Go-Ahead Score
ITHACA, N.Y. – The Yale football team was looking for a spark coming out of halftime with the score tied 7-7 at Cornell Saturday afternoon, and it didn't take long for the Bulldogs to get one. Senior cornerback Adam Money's interception and 20-yard return on the first play of the third quarter set up the go-ahead touchdown on a one-yard run by junior tailback Alex Thomas. Junior quarterback Patrick Witt added a one-yard TD later in the quarter, and that was enough for a 21-7 win in the Ivy League opener. The Yale defense finished with four sacks and held Cornell to 22 rushing yards on 22 carries.
"We talked at the half about how the secondary needed to step up," Money said. "We wanted to come out and get a big momentum shift."
Tom Williams, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football, noted a big difference in his team's play as the game wore on.
"In the second half, it felt like we took a deep breath, came out and made the plays we were supposed to make," Williams said.
Yale had three drives of more than 60 yards in the first half, but could not get any separation on the scoreboard as both defenses came up with plays when needed. Cornell's first drive was knocked off schedule by a sack from senior cornerback Chris Stanley and sophomore linebacker Will McHale that left the Big Red facing a third-and-12 that they could not convert.
After the punt, the Bulldogs started their second drive just seven yards from their own end zone, but got a 21-yard completion from Witt to sophomore wide receiver Chris Smith. Three plays later, Witt hit senior wide receiver Gio Christodoulou over the middle and Christodoulou took off toward the end zone down the left sideline. A Cornell defensive back raced across the field and got close enough to Christodoulou to try a diving tackle inside the 10-yard line, but Christodoulou slipped through his arms and into the end zone for the first offensive touchdown of his career (he has been to the end zone before as a return man).
Cornell answered with a 72-yard drive that ended with tailback Nick Booker-Tandy taking a swing pass from quarterback Jeff Matthews eight yards into the end zone to tie the game. After that the defenses took over. Stanley and junior outside linebacker Wes Moyer ended Cornell's next drive by dropping Matthews for a three-yard loss on third-and-three, and senior linebacker Dan Walsh ended the next one by breaking up a third-down pass.
"We wanted to see if [Matthews, a freshman] could handle pressure," Williams said. "We went after him. I thought they did a good job adjusting their game plan, getting the ball out of his hands quickly. He is going to be a good quarterback in this league."
Midway through the second quarter Cornell defensive back Emani Fenton's second interception of the day led to a long return from the Big Red 28 that ended three yards shy of the Yale end zone on a tackle by Smith -- but much of that return was negated by a penalty on the Big Red that brought the ball all the way back to the Big Red 28. Junior defensive tackle Reed Spiller stuffed a run up the middle on second down from the Cornell 48, and after Cornell failed to convert on third down the Big Red punted.
Yale was pinned at its own two-yard line by the Bid Red punt, but a 47-yard run by Thomas got the ball into Cornell territory. But facing fourth-and-six from the Big Red 24, the Bulldogs gave up a sack and Cornell took over with 1:38 left in the second quarter. A sack by sophomore defensive end Allen Davis on first down quickly changed the complexion of that drive, and after a pair of runs the clock ran out on the first half.
The Yale defense changed the momentum immediately at the start of the second half with Money's interception. On the ensuing drive the Yale offense faced a third-and-six from the Cornell 18, but while Witt's pass for senior wide receiver Jordan Forney in the end zone sailed out of bounds the Big Red was hit with a pass interference call. The Elis thus had first-and-goal from the three, and two runs by Thomas -- who had six carries on the drive as part of his 18-carry, 124-yard day -- got the ball into the end zone.
The punt team then produced a big play of its own, as sophomore linebacker Jordan Haynes recovered a fumbled return at the Cornell 30 after a hit by Money.
"I just tackled him," Money said, referring to the returner. "I was expecting him to get up with the ball, but then I heard a commotion behind me. That was a huge play, to get the ball that deep."
A 23-yard burst up the middle by Thomas then set up a first-and-goal, and on fourth-and-goal from the one Witt kept the ball and dove into the end zone to put Yale up 21-7.
With senior defensive end Tom McCarthy, Yale's captain, sidelined by injury, Davis was one of the players stepping up to fill the void. His sack of Matthews on a first down at the Yale 29 helped derail Cornell's last hope to get back in the game. That drive ended with Matthews throwing an incompletion on fourth and five from the Yale 24 with 4:24 to play. The Yale offense then came on the field to run out the clock.
This marked the first time Yale has won its Ivy League opener in three years. Holding Cornell to seven points also marked a dramatic turnaround from the season opener, when Yale allowed 35 in a win over Georgetown.
"Coach Williams has been preaching that the best teams make a big jump from week one to week two," Money said. "Everybody did that today."
The Bulldogs host Albany next Saturday at the Yale Bowl, Class of 1954 Field.
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity
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