Score First 17 Points and Last 14 Points to Deny Big Red
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Yale and Cornell combined for 520 yards passing in the Ivy League opener at the Yale Bowl, Class of 1954 Field Saturday afternoon, but in the end it was a run -- a 58-yarder for a touchdown by senior tailback Alex Thomas -- that finally put the game out of reach in Yale's favor. The Bulldogs had scored the first 17 points of the game, but Cornell closed to within 23-17 in the third quarter. After a one-yard TD by senior quarterback Patrick Witt extended the lead to 13, Thomas' run early in the fourth quarter provided the exclamation point for the 37-17 win.
Witt threw for 246 yards and two touchdowns without an interception, completing more than 72 percent of his passes (24 of 33). He finished the day with 4,201 career passing yards, becoming just the fifth Bulldog to reach the 4,000-yard mark. His counterpart, Cornell's Jeff Mathews, threw for 271 yards and one score and nearly rallied his team from the early deficit before Witt and Thomas' scores sealed the game.
"I think it speaks to the character of this offense, the way that we responded," Witt said. "We don't want it to be the other team coming within seven points before we finally wake up, but to get those two scores when they had a little bit of life was big for us."
The Bulldogs dodged a bullet on the opening kickoff, when Rashad Campbell's 100-yard return for a touchdown was taken off the board due to a holding penalty on Cornell. Yale took advantage of the early momentum swing, as sophomore strong safety Nick Okano intercepted a pass at the Yale 45 on the ensuing drive.
"Nick made a great catch," said Tom Williams, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football. "He contorted his body and caught it with his hands behind him. You've got to be quasi-athletic to do that."
Seven plays later Witt dropped a perfectly-placed pass over the Cornell defender and into the waiting arms of junior wide receiver Allen Harris in the end zone for a five-yard touchdown.
After the Yale defense forced a three-and-out the Bulldogs were right back in the end zone, driving 40 yards this time. Harris had a pair of big receptions, eating up 36 yards and enabling sophomore tailback Mordecai Cargill to cap the drive with a one-yard touchdown run. Junior Philippe Panico made it 14-0 with the extra point at 7:07 of the first quarter.
The Yale special teams unit helped expand the lead, first by pinning the Cornell offense back at its own 15 thanks to a tackle by sophomore wide receiver Brandis Yarrington, and then by setting the Yale offense up at the Cornell 16 with a 37-yard punt return by senior wide receiver Gio Christodoulou. Panico's 32-yard field goal made it 17-0 Yale less than 11 minutes into the game.
Cornell put together its best drive of the half right as the second quarter came to an end, going 54 yards in 12 plays for a 26-yard field goal by Brad Greenway. Mathews completed six of eight passes on the drive.
The Big Red scored again on its first possession of the second half, getting a 21-yard scoring pass from Mathews to receiver Luke Tasker at 9:04. But the Big Red then tried a surprise onside kick that senior defensive end Cliff Foreman gathered in at the Cornell 42.
"[The first line of Yale's return team] set up at the 45 and then bailed [back towards the kick returner to set up blocks]," Cornell head coach Kent Austin said in explaining what the Big Red was hoping to exploit with the trick play. "Brad [Greenway] just put a little too much on it, otherwise we had a chance at it. It's a high-risk, high-reward play."
Four plays later, Witt hit sophomore wide receiver Cameron Sandquist in the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown. The extra point attempt was blocked, but Yale's lead was 23-10.
Cornell (1-1, 0-1 Ivy League) answered immediately, driving 77 yards for a touchdown. Tailback Grant Gellatly's 30-yard dash up the middle and into the end zone pulled Cornell within a score. But special teams once again tilted momentum back in Yale's favor when sophomore receiver Deon Randall, filling in for injured junior receiver Chris Smith, returned the kick all the way into Cornell territory. The five-foot-nine Randall bowled over a would-be tackler while he was at it.
With Yale on offense Randall then made a spectacular diving grab at the Cornell four, and four plays later Witt kept the ball from the one-yard line for a score that pushed the Elis' lead back up to 13 with 1:49 left in the third.
The Yale defense put the offensive back-and-forth between the two teams to an end by denying Cornell on a third-and-10 from the Cornell 39. Okano tackled Gellatly a yard short of the first down to force a punt, ending a string of four straight drives that ended in touchdowns.
Thomas then broke the game open by racing 58 yards through a wide-open hole for a touchdown that made it 37-17 with 13:08 to play.
A fumble forced by junior defensive end Allen Davis and recovered by junior linebacker Will McHale ended Cornell's next drive at the Yale 36, just two plays after a long pass from Mathews to receiver Shane Savage that would have brought the ball to the Yale 12 was wiped out by a holding call. The Yale offense got the clock down to slightly more than three minutes left before giving the ball back to Cornell, and that was not enough time for the Big Red to mount any more threats.
Yale (2-0, 1-0 Ivy League) travels to Lehigh for a 12:30 game next Saturday.
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity