The last time Yale put up this many points against Cornell, your grandma wasn’t even born.
The Bulldogs’ 51-12 domination of the Big Red on Saturday resulted in the most points scored since 1889, when the Elis beat Cornell 60-6 and 70-0 in the same year. To put things in perspective, back then the forward pass was still illegal, field goals and touchdowns were both worth four points, and there were only 42 states.
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“Do I have to make a statement?” Cornell head coach Jim Knowles said jokingly after the game. “Can I plead the fifth?”
The record-setting victory against Cornell included a number of outstanding performances from the usual suspects. Tailback Mike McLeod ’09 finished the day with 151 yards and three rushing touchdowns after going over 100 yards in the first half. The three scores moved McLeod into second place in Yale history for career rushing TDs, leaving him only one touchdown behind Robert Carr ’04 for the school record.
“Mike’s one of those guys where it sometimes doesn’t look like he’s doing much, but all of a sudden it’s second and three,” assistant head coach Keith Clark said. “He’s going to wear you down over the course of the football game. He just keeps bringing it. He may get tired, but so does the defense. Late in the third quarter, we win this football game by wearing them down.”
Although Matt Polhemus’s ’08 final passing metrics — nine of 19 for 128 yards and one touchdown — do not seem particularly impressive, the senior quarterback turned in a solid performance. Polhemus continually made good decisions with the football, consistently avoided the blitz and showed an innate ability to make something out of nothing. He finished the day with 61 rushing yards — 22 yards more than the entire Big Red offense — and zero interceptions.
“I was just really happy to see an overall team effort,” Polhemus said when asked about his performance. “Defense, offense — everyone played great. It’s a good feeling showing exactly what we can do.”
In addition, last week’s standout John Sheffield ’10 added three catches for 23 yards.
Despite the final score, the Bulldogs did not turn the game into a rout until the third quarter. On the game’s first drive, the Big Red moved the ball with relative ease and crossed Yale territory before being undone by Shane Kilcoyne’s four-yard loss on first down. Kilcoyne’s carry set the tone for the rest of the game, as the junior running back would finish the day with 7 rushes for minus 14 yards.
On the ensuing possession, the Bulldogs only faced one third down as they marched straight down the field to Cornell’s six-yard line. After two carries by McLeod, the Elis faced third and goal from the two-yard line. Instead of trying to punch it in with their star running back, the Bulldogs instead opted to throw. Polhemus’s pass to Langston Johnson ’08 fell incomplete, forcing the Elis to settle for a field goal. Despite the questionable play call, Polhemus and Johnson made up for the missed connection later in the game with a 6-yard touchdown pass to open the second quarter.
“That was great,” Polhemus said. “Langston really needed that. He works so hard; he blocks and he doesn’t get any of the glory. I overthrew him on that first touchdown, but he came back and caught that second touchdown. I was really happy to see that.”
Cornell’s first drive in the second quarter was undone by another offensive miscue, this time a delay of game penalty that turned a manageable third and three to a difficult third and eight. On their next drive, Big Red quarterback Nathan Ford was picked off by Jay Pilkerton ’09, the first of three Cornell interceptions. After an Alan Kimball ’08 field goal pushed the Bulldog lead to 13-0, the Big Red reached into their bag of tricks.
Cornell, facing a fourth and two on the Yale 47-yard line, decided that the Bulldog defense was not going to be beaten conventionally. The Big Red tried to run a flea-flicker but halfback Kilcoyne fumbled the exchange to Ford. Although the pass by Ford initially seemed to be complete for a 30-yard gain, the play was ruled dead as the referees cited a relatively unknown rule stating that any fumble on fourth down may only be advanced by the player who fumbled the ball.
“We knew coming into the game that Yale was a consensus pick to win the league,” Knowles said. “We didn’t want to leave anything in the bag. We had a flea-flicker, and it turns out that on fourth down the only guy that can pick it up is the guy that fumbles.”
After another Kimball field goal, the Big Red advanced the ball with a no-huddle, hurry-up offense that led to a crucial third and one on the Yale 23-yard line. Once again, the Bulldog defense stepped up. Nathan Ford was sacked for a nine-yard loss by defensive end Brady Hart ’09 and threw an incomplete pass on fourth down to end the drive.
“They dominated us in all phases of the game,” Knowles said. “They’re coached very well and they’re big and physical and they just come right at you.”
Cornell narrowed the margin to 16-6 in the third quarter after an impressive 35-yard catch by wideout Bryan Walters set up a 6-yard halfback pass for a touchdown. The Big Red opted to go for the two-point conversion but came up short as Ford’s pass fell incomplete. On the ensuing kickoff, the trickery continued as Cornell tried an onside kick. The gamble failed as placekicker Jay Harding kicked the ball out of bounds, resulting in Bulldog possession on the Cornell 40-yard line. After four consecutive running plays capped by McLeod’s first rushing touchdown of the day, the Bulldogs were up 23-6 and the rout was on.
“Every time we get the ball we have an opportunity for a big play,” McLeod said. “If everybody gets on a guy, all I have to do is make one person miss and we’re off to the races.”
A 61-yard pass to Johnson set up McLeod’s second rushing touchdown, but the Big Red quickly answered with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Walters. The Big Red went for the two-point conversion again but came up short. Following a Bulldog punt, Ford was intercepted again, this time by linebacker Lee Driftmier ’08.
“I’m really trying to get the [Walter] Payton Award [given annually to the best player in FCS] to this college,” Driftmier said. “I know I’m not going to get it so I might as well give it to McLeod, so I stepped out of bounds at the one and let him take it from there.”
McLeod punched it in from the one to put the Elis up 37-12. Driftmier’s gift was McLeod’s last carry, as the fourth-quarter belonged to the Bulldogs’ younger players. Running backs Ricardo Galvez ’10 and Jordan Farrell ’10 combined for 79 rushing yards — more than double Cornell’s total rushing output — and a touchdown apiece to solidify the final 51-12 margin. Jordan Forney ’11 and Chris Solga ’08 also recorded their first career catches.
The Bulldogs face off against Holy Cross next Saturday before resuming Ivy League play the following week against Dartmouth.