Football | Sacked in Ithaca

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

The football team opened its Ivy League slate at Cornell (2-0, 1-0 Ivy) on a wet Saturday and left Ithaca with a very sour taste in its mouth.

A year after obliterating the Big Red at home, 51-12, the highly favored Bulldogs (1-1, 0-1 Ivy) struggled defensively and suffered their first loss of the season, 17-14 .

Just a week after cruising to 47 points against Georgetown (1-3), the Yale offense floundered against an aggressive Cornell defense that applied constant pressure throughout the game, with changing blitzes and schemes. The Elis managed just 209 total yards and turned over the ball four times.

On the ground, the Bulldogs ran the ball 28 times for a grand total of zero net rushing yards.

“I am very concerned with the running game and we need to get people on people and allow Mike [McLeod] room to run,” head coach Jack Siedlecki said.

The aforementioned Walter Payton Award candidate and preseason All-American Mike McLeod ’09 rushed 20 times for 57 yards, while the quarterback duo of Ryan Fodor ’09 and Brook Hart ’11 combined to rush for negative 55 yards. Cornell’s pressure sacked the quarterbacks a combined five times and forced three total fumbles — two from Hart and one from Fodor.

“They were stunting different people all over the place, making it very difficult to decipher what they were doing defensively,” Hart said. “It’s hard to block six or seven people as it is, but it’s even harder when you’re not sure where they are coming from.”

It wasn’t any better for the Bulldogs through the air. The quarterback duo combined to complete 18 of their 36 passes for 209 yards. Fodor, who got his second consecutive start, went 15 of 28 for 169 yards and threw a touchdown and an interception. But take away the final drive of 10 passes for 80 yards — which culminated in the lone Bulldog offensive touchdown on a 7-yard pass from Fodor to Jarrett Drake ’09 — the numbers don’t look as appealing.

Hart had fewer snaps against Cornell than he did against Georgetown last week, when he threw for 176 yards and three touchdowns. The southpaw saw time in six series against the Big Red but gave way to Fodor in his final two drives. The sophomore threw just eight passes, completing three of them for 40 yards.

“We thought Ryan would have a better handle on the no-huddle offense that we needed to employ in the fourth quarter,” Siedlecki explained. “The last drive ended up being the longest of the day in terms of plays yardage and completions. [It was] too late. We needed to protect better, catch the ball and make good decisions throughout the game.”

The offense wasn’t helped by poor field position, costly penalties and turnovers throughout the game. The average starting field position for the Bulldogs was their own 24-yard line, while the Big Red began five drives in Yale territory.

The Elis were also penalized seven times for 80 yards and turned the ball over three more times than Cornell.

“They brought a lot of pressure the entire game, which we had trouble adjusting to,” Fodor said. “We also had a lot of stupid penalties and took sacks [that] put us in a lot of second and third and longs, which are very difficult to convert.”

With the offense failing to move the ball up the field, the Yale defense and special teams unit did all they could to keep the Elis in the game.

With 1:57 remaining in the first half, Gio Christodoulou ’11 took a punt at Yale’s 29-yard line and returned it 71 yards the other way for a touchdown to cut the Big Red lead to seven, 14-7.

The touchdown was Christodoulou’s second in three games, dating back to last season. The Miami, Fla., native returned a punt for an 87-yard touchdown in the 2007 finale against Harvard — the only Eli score in that game.

“Our return team takes a lot of pride in what we do,” Christodoulou said. “I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m capable of doing without the other 10 guys putting in their part.”

Defensively, the Elis held the Big Red to just 221 yards of total offense and made it difficult for the passing game to get anything going.

Quarterback Nathan Ford completed just seven of his 22 passes for 74 yards to go and threw his third interception of the season to defensive back Steven Santoro ’09.

It was Santoro’s second pick of the season and 11th interception of his career, which ties him at third, with Arnie Pinkston ’80, on Yale’s all-time list.

Cornell was more effective — though not by much — on the ground. The Big Red rushed for 125 yards, but took 51 carries to do so.

Ford began the scoring on the ground with a 1-yard rush six minutes into the game.

Starting tailback Randy Barbour carried the football 23 of those times for 67 yards, including a 6-yard scamper to make a 14-0 Cornell lead in the second quarter.

Backups Luke Siwula and Stephen Liuzza combined to rush 19 times for 64 yards. Lizzua’s 19-yard run in the second quarter put the ball on the 7-yard line and set up Barbour’s touchdown from 6 yards out three plays later.

Yale strong safety Larry Abare ’09 led the squad with 12 tackles (five solo); twin brother and captain Bobby had 10 of his own (five solo).

The Bulldogs had a combined total of eight tackles for loss but didn’t manage a single sack on Ford after recording three against the Hoyas last week.

Even with this unexpected defeat, not all is lost for the Bulldogs: The early loss could have been much more devastating if it wasn’t for another Ivy League upset. Brown (2-0, 1-0 Ivy) defeated other Ivy League favorite Harvard (1-1, 0-1 Ivy) by a score of 24-22. As a result, the two teams favored heading into the season are sitting in the Ancient Eight basement.

The Bulldogs will look to put this loss behind them when Holy Cross (1-2) comes to the Yale Bowl on Saturday.

Holy Cross’s record is deceptive. The Crusaders opened their season with loss on a last-second field goal against then-No. 4 UMass and followed with a one-point loss to Harvard, 25-24, before routing Georgetown, 38-14, on Saturday.

“This is when a team is really tested and relies on senior leadership,” Siedlecki explained. “We need to get better, coaches and players. We need to believe in ourselves and what we are doing and have a great week of practice.”

With this early defeat, the Bulldogs know they cannot afford to lose another league game.

“We know that in order to win a championship we need to win out, but our goal from the start was to win every game, so nothing changes,” Fodor explained. “We need to go win the next eight, starting this Saturday with Holy Cross.”

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