Sept. 24, 2005
New Haven, CT - Captain Jeff Mroz threw five touchdown passes, tying a 39-year old school record, as Yale beat Cornell 37-17 Saturday afternoon at the Yale Bowl. Only two fourth-quarter touchdowns by the Big Red, when Yale already had built a 27-point lead, marred an otherwise outstanding performance by a Bulldog defense that generated three turnovers and three sacks. The victory represented a dramatic improvement for Yale after a 17-14 upset loss at San Diego the previous week.
The game did not begin auspiciously for the Blue. After a three-and-out by the Yale offense, Cornell took over at its own 37 and appeared to have the Bulldogs on their heels as the Elis adjusted to the fast-paced no-huddle option attack. The Big Red's first four plays went for first downs and got the ball to the Yale 19 before the Eli defense stiffened. CB Mike Holben had the biggest play, blanketing his receiver in the end zone on a third-and-six from the nine and forcing Cornell QB Ryan Kuhn to try a pinpoint pass that wound up in Anthony Jackson's hands just out of bounds. A 26-yard field goal by A.J. Weitsman followed.
Just like the defense, the Yale offense took some time to come together but quickly made up for it. A 43-yard kickoff return by Mike McLeod helped, setting the Bulldogs up at the Cornell 48. While the Elis could not get a first down on that drive, on the very first play of Cornell's next drive FS Nick Solakian stepped in front of a Kuhn pass down the field and picked it off to set the offense up at the Cornell 34. On the very next play Mroz lofted one to WR Todd Feiereisen on a post pattern, and Feiereisen fought off a Cornell defender to come down with the ball and bring the Big Red into the end zone with him. Yale missed the extra point but had a 6-3 lead.
The Eli offense got off one more impressive drive as the first quarter came to an end, highlighted by a play-action rollout that Mroz fired to WR Ashley Wright for a 16-yard gain. Four plays later Cornell had to burn a timeout to regroup in the face of Yale's constantly changing offensive formations. PK Alan Kimball booted a 26-yard field goal as time ran out for the quarter.
The defense kept momentum squarely on Yale's side as the second quarter began, ending Cornell's first drive with a dramatic tag-team sack. DE Brandon Dyches broke through the line first to flush out Cornell QB Ryan Kuhn, and just as Dyches got his hands on the Cornell signal caller to begin dragging him down DE Brandon Etheridge arrived to apply the finishing touch on the 10-yard loss.
A Mroz interception could have been a turning point on the next drive, but the Eli defense immediately forced Cornell off-schedule by drawing a holding call on first down, and the drive ended after three plays with a punt from the Cornell 35. Operating at the Yale 30, Mroz showed no hesitation in bouncing back from the turnover - he rolled left and launched one deep to Wright, who had his man beat. Wright evaded one last diving try by the defense to step into the end zone for the 70-yard score. Kimball's extra point extended the lead to 16-3.
Kuhn's next pass went right to Yale LB Chris Barry, who returned it 24 yards to the Cornell 29. Five plays later, Mroz and Feiereisen connected again, this time from 18 yards out, and Yale led 23-3.
Cornell's last good chance to score in the half ended with a missed 35-yard field goal attempt, and the final Big Red drive ended appropriately with Dyches pressuring Kuhn into throwing one to LB Lee Driftmier with one second left on the clock.
The defense came up with a stop on Cornell's first drive of the second half, and the Yale offense began putting the game away with a 10-play drive that culminated with another Mroz touchdown pass. This one came despite heavy pressure on first-and-goal from the Big Red nine, as Mroz barely had time to step back and toss one towards the far corner of the end zone. Wright was there to cradle it away from a Big Red defender and extend Yale's lead.
The last real chance for Cornell to begin a comeback ended early in the fourth quarter with the Yale defense standing tall. The Big Red had a third-and-seven at the Yale 11 and aimed for the end zone. Kuhn dropped back and looked left, but Holben had his man blanketed. Kuhn then tried to force one to the right side, where CB Andrew Butler had coverage on WR Brian Romney and the ball landed out of bounds. Forced to go for the touchdown on fourth down, Kuhn fired one over a double-covered receiver in the end zone and the Eli offense took over.
"The defensive backs played awesome," noted Dyches. "I've never seen them play like that."
The Big Red got a momentary spark from freshman QB Nathan Ford, who came on to lead a 13-play, 74-yard drive for a touchdown later in the quarter. TB Luke Siwula dashed into the end zone from 12 yards out as the Big Red got into double digits.
Yale responded to that drive with another touchdown pass from Mroz, this one a perfectly-executed 31-yarder. With great protection, Mroz looked left to draw the defense away from Wright, who beat his man inside and got Mroz' pass in stride on his way to the end zone. That made Mroz the first Bulldog to pass for five touchdowns in a game since Pete Doherty pulled off the feat in 1966 against Columbia. Wright's three touchdown receptions marked the ninth time a Bulldog has ever had that many in a game.
Mroz gave credit for the record-setting performance to his offensive linemen.
"Ed (McCarthy), Brett (Crandall), Nick (Wachtler), Darius (Dale), Brice (Wilkinson) and Jeff (Monaco) all played extremely well," Mroz said. "When you have blocking like that, I've just got to do my job. It's a lot easier when there's nobody in your face."
The Bulldog defense momentarily lost its discipline on the next drive, as a roughing the passer call gave the Big Red a gift first down after what would have been a failed fourth-down attempt. Ford took advantage of that with an impressive scramble away from Yale pressure to buy time for Siwula to get open for a diving grab at the Yale one from 37 yards away. A Siwula touchdown run on the next play made the score 37-17, but just 5:58 was left on the clock. The teams traded ineffective possessions as time ran out on the Big Red.
The victory was the perfect way for the Bulldogs to bounce back from last week's disappointing loss at San Diego.
"We feel pretty good," Dyches said. "A lot different than we did seven days ago on the long plane ride back."
Yale hosts Holy Cross next Saturday at 1:00.
report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity