Strong safety Adam Money ’11 needed only two games to make his presence felt in his new position Saturday. The converted cornerback stepped in front of a long Cornell pass on the first play of the second half and took it back 20 yards to set up what turned out to be the game’s decisive score — a one-yard run by running back Alex Thomas ’12.
The Bulldogs (2–0, 1–0 Ivy) had hit the lockers after the first half with the advantage in almost every statistical category, but a 7–7 tie on the scoreboard. They stormed back after the break, and eight plays after Money’s interception, Yale seized the lead for good.
“We just needed to relax and go out and do what we did in the first half without the turnovers and the penalties, and we knew it would be just fine,” head coach Tom Williams said.
The Bulldogs did just that. After Cornell (0–2, 0–1) intercepted Yale quarterback Patrick Witt ’12 twice in the first half, Yale turned the tables and forced two Cornell turnovers in the second — Money’s interception and forced fumble in punt coverage, which was recovered by Jordan Haynes ’12. Witt and Thomas made the Big Red pay for those mistakes, both scoring on one-yard runs on the drives that followed the takeaways.
Witt highlighted those turnovers as keys to the game.
“Last year when we turned the ball over, teams capitalized and it really put us in a bad spot,” he said. “This season, it’s been great to see the defense shut them down when we make mistakes.”
Shutting Cornell down meant more than just Money’s interception and subsequent fumble recovery. The Bulldogs held Cornell to 22 yards rushing on 22 carries and sacked Big Red quarterback Jeff Matthews four times despite the absence of captain Tom McCarthy ’11 due to injury.
“It’s obviously tough not to have the captain out there, but we just played our techniques,” said defensive lineman Allen Davis ’13, who started in place of McCarthy and earned his first collegiate sack. “All the guys stepped up and just went out there and did their best.”
Midway through the first quarter, the Bulldogs’ game resembled the the previous week’s offensive fireworks against Georgetown more than it did the grind for field position against the Big Red last September.
On Yale’s second drive of the game, Witt found Gio Christodoulou ’11 streaking across the middle. Christodoulou broke two tackles and scampered 69 yards for his first offensive touchdown at Yale.
“I’ve been dying to get into the paint, and I’m glad it came against a conference opponent,” Christodoulou said. “Pat was able to throw it right at my chest, and after that I just had to be a football player.”
The Big Red wasted no time in responding. Matthews, a freshman, stayed cool as he became the first freshman to start behind center in the history of Cornell football. Although Yale stuffed almost every Cornell run, Matthews remained poised. In Cornell’s next drive, he hit three different receivers before an 11-yard swing pass to tailback Nick Booker-Tandy tied the game.
After that exchange, the defenses took over. Cornell defensive back Emani Fenton intercepted Witt twice in three drives, and the Big Red denied Yale’s bid to convert a 4th and 6 late in the half when lineman Brad Lainhart earned the only sack against Yale so far this season.
Williams attributed the decision to keep the field goal unit, which is 0–3 on the season, off the field to Yale’s brand of offense.
“The only reason we didn’t go for [the field goal] at that point is because we were at the edge of [Alex Barnes’s ’11] range,” he said. “Our mentality is to always be on the attack and give ourselves chances for first downs and to keep moving the football.”
The Bulldogs bounced back from the fourth-down stop in the second half when Witt and Thomas took advantage of Cornell’s turnovers.
Witt attributed his touchdown sneak and much of the success of the Yale attack to the experienced offensive line in front of him.
“As far as understanding where our eyes have to be and who we have to pick up on different blitzes, there’s been huge improvement since last year,” the quarterback said. “That’s allowed me to get comfortable in the pocket, and it’s taken a lot of weight off my shoulders. I can’t say enough about those guys.”
The line wasn’t just successful making time for the pass — the unit was able to open the gaps Thomas needed to gain 126 yards on 18 carries.
“The line knew the pressure they were going to get, and they picked up everything great,” Thomas said. “The fullbacks did well leading the way and the offense played the way it was supposed to and made my job easy.”
The Bulldog defense made sure no Cornell player could say the same thing and made the Big Red one-dimensional on offense.
“You could see that with the entire defense that after giving up so many points at Georgetown last week, everyone just settled down and found their niche,” Money said.
The Bulldogs will look to stay undefeated Saturday against Albany (1–2) at the Yale Bowl.
“We’re pretty balanced,” Thomas said. “If they shut down the run, we can pass. If they try to stop the pass, we can run. We have that confidence in one another.”