Big Red Edges Yale 17-14 in Ivy Opener

Sept. 27, 2008

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ITHACA, N.Y. - When Yale played Cornell a year ago, the Bulldogs enjoyed a 51-12 win that represented their largest margin of victory over the Big Red in 118 years. Yale ran for 293 yards, did not allow a sack and held Cornell to 39 rushing yards on 21 carries. The lessons of that game were not lost on the Big Red, however, and Saturday's meeting at Schoellkopf Field had a much different tone. The Big Red racked up five sacks, held Yale to zero rushing yards, and ran for 125 yards en route to a 17-14 win.

"They brought a lot of pressure," said senior quarterback Ryan Fodor, who once again split time with sophomore Brook Hart. "It was nothing we didn't expect to see, but I don't think we handled it well."

The defensive effort by the Big Red overshadowed an excellent day for the Yale defense, which limited Cornell to a 5-for-20 performance on third downs and just 96 yards passing (eight for 23). Four of Cornell's final six drives of the game went for negative yardage, but unfortunately for the Elis the Big Red had all the points it needed by that point.

Cornell (2-0, 1-0 Ivy League) scored on its second drive of the day, starting at its own 40 after an interception. The big play was a 22-yard toss from Stephen Liuzza, a former quarterback turned receiver, to receiver Bryan Walters on the first play of the drive. It ended with quarterback Nathan Ford diving in from a yard out to make it 7-0 at 9:15.

The Cornell defense helped set up the Big Red's next score by sacking Hart on a third-and-nine, forcing Yale to punt from its own 19. The Big Red offense started from the Yale 45 after that, and after eight plays tailback Randy Barbour was in the end zone from six yards out to make it 14-0 at 10:10 of the second.

"We had three or four guys around the ball," said senior linebacker Bobby Abare, whose 10 tackles for the game were second only to his twin brother, senior strong safety Larry (12). "Give credit to [Barber] -- he dove in there."

The Big Red made another statement on the next Yale drive, as the Cornell defense caught senior tailback Mike McLeod at the line of scrimmage on first down, then got him for a loss on second down. By then it was clear that the Bulldogs would not enjoy the same control of the line of scrimmage that they had in last year's game against the Big Red, when McLeod had 151 yards and three touchdowns. After a short completion the Bulldogs had to punt from their own 26.

The Yale defense came up with a three-and-out of its own on the next Cornell drive. Larry Abare and freshman defensive lineman Jake Stoller stopped tailback Luke Siwula two yards shy of a first down on a third-down draw play.

The next Big Red drive ended deep in Cornell territory when junior defensive lineman Tom McCarthy tracked down wide receiver Zac Canty after a short screen pass three yards short of a first down.

That forced Cornell to punt from its own 25, which set up the first big play of the day for the Bulldogs. Sophomore defensive back Gio Christodoulou caught the ensuing punt at the Eli 29, got a pair of blocks up the middle, then cut left and was off to the races. His 71-yard return got Yale on the scoreboard right before halftime, 14-7.

"Before the play, one of our seniors, Brian Stephenson, looked everybody in the eye and said this is the time to make a play," said Christodoulou. "Everybody did that. It was great blocks all around."

Christodoulou's return was the sixth-longest punt return in Yale history. It gave the sophomore a pair of touchdowns in a span of nine punt returns, dating back to his 87-yarder for a touchdown against Harvard in the 2007 finale.

The Yale defense was put to the test immediately at the start of the second half, as Big Red defensive lineman Frank Kunis forced a fumble and recovered it at the Yale six. Senior defensive lineman Kyle Hawari stopped Siwula after a one-yard gain on first down, then junior quarterback Paul Rice delivered a crunching tackle on Siwula after another one-yard gain on second down. Senior defensive lineman Joe Hathaway tripped up Siwula three yards shy of the goal line on third down to force Cornell to settle for a 21-yard field goal from Brad Greenway.

Senior free safety Steven Santoro came up with an interception on the final Big Red drive of the third quarter, but the Bulldogs were hurt by a personal foul call on that play -- one of seven penalties for the Blue -- that pushed the start of the drive back to the Yale 33. Three plays and two yards later, the Big Red's fourth sack of the day resulted in another Yale fumble -- forced by, and recovered by, rover Gus Krimm at the Yale 27.

The Yale defense made a goal-line stand to keep the game manageable, as junior defensive end Max Newton deflected a third-down pass from the Yale three and Brad Greenway missed the field goal attempt. But each of the next two drives for the Yale offense ended with punts. Cornell took over with 7:14 to play and ran five minutes off the clock before being forced to punt from the Yale 37 after a third-down tackle by defensive lineman Matt Kelleher.

Fodor then led Yale (1-1, 0-1 Ivy League) on a near-perfect two-minute drill, compressing seven completions into a span of 76 seconds. The last one was a well-placed touchdown pass into the far right corner of the end zone for senior wide receiver Jarrett Drake from seven yards out. It was Drake's first career touchdown catch.

Back within three points, the Bulldogs pinned their hopes on an onside kick, but Cornell's Jesse Baker gathered that one in at the Yale 43. With only 56 seconds left and Yale down to two timeouts, the Big Red was able to run enough time off the clock with a pair of kneeldowns and a scramble by quarterback Nathan Ford to get the clock down to zero.

The game marked a topsy-turvy start to Ivy League play. In the other Ancient Eight game, the preseason co-favorite with Yale -- Harvard -- lost to Brown 24-22.

"The top two teams in the league [from the preseason poll] are 0-1," said Jack Siedlecki, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football. "We're still in at as well as anybody else."

Yale hosts Holy Cross next Saturday at the Yale Bowl, Class of 1954 Field.

report by Sam Rubin '95 (sam.rubin@yale.edu), Yale Sports Publicity

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