The Bulldogs stormed the Yale Bowl on Saturday to seek revenge for last season’s 45–6 loss to the Big Red in their Ivy League opener — and revenge they found.
Yale’s defense forced Big Red quarterback and 2011 Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year Jeff Mathews into three turnovers while quarterback Hank Furman ’14 and wide receiver Deon Randall ’14 combined for five touchdowns as the Elis powered past Cornell 38–23. Yale’s Ivy opener was all about composure; the Bulldog defense frequently forced Mathews to scramble, while the Yale attack remained stoic as it marched down the field.
“Every year is a new year,” head coach Tony Reno said. “The carry over from last year that we had was growth.”
Captain and defensive end Beau Palin ’14 said he has been happy with how the Bulldogs have been performing but added that there was still room to improve after Yale’s season-opening win at Colgate. On Saturday, Yale (2–0, 1–0 Ivy) proved it could dominate through the air as well as on the ground, picking up a total of 566 offensive yards and attaining 30 first downs.
Reno stressed the depth of Yale’s wide receiving corps as an essential part of spreading out the defense and creating opportunities on offense. Randall, wide receiver Chris Smith ’14 and wide receiver Grant Wallace ’15 combined to catch 22 passes for 296 yards.
“We’re a team that has a multitude of weapons,” Reno said. “Randall and Smith, Wallace — you have to defend all those guys at the perimeter. It’s very frustrating to try to defend our offense.”
Yale shocked the Cornell defense from the opening kickoff. After Smith returned the opening kickoff 46 yards to the Cornell 49-yard line, a series of punishing runs from tailback Tyler Varga ’15 and a 34-yard strike to Wallace brought Yale to the doorstep. Furman then punched it in on third-and-goal to take a 7–0 lead early in the first quarter.
Trying to keep Yale’s explosive offense on the sidelines, Cornell (1–1, 0–1 Ivy) ran a no-huddle offense but came up empty on its first possession.
The Big Red then caught an early break when outside linebacker Tre’ Minor blocked placekicker Kyle Cazzetta ’15 as he attempted a 36-yard field goal halfway through the first quarter.
On the ensuing drive, Cornell kicker John Wells knocked down a 31-yard field goal to narrow the gap to 7–3.
With the Big Red facing third-and-13 on the Yale 43-yard line at the end of the first quarter, Mathews was hit as he threw the ball and defensive tackle Jeff Schmittgens ’15 intercepted the errant pass to stop the drive.
The Elis did not capitalize on the opportunity, however, and Cornell’s offense came out like a Big Red machine on its next drive.
A big pass interference penalty against linebacker Will Vaughan ’15 negated a third down stop for the Bulldogs. Another third down conversion for Cornell brought the ball to the Yale four-yard line. Mathews made the Bulldogs pay two plays later, throwing a nine-yard strike to wide receiver Lucas Shapiro to take a 10–7 lead with 0:51 remaining in the half.
The Elis, refusing to finish the first half behind on the scoreboard, had a few more tricks up their sleeve.
Smith made a big play just before halftime, breaking a 33-yard catch-and-run to take the Elis inside Cornell territory. Wide receiver Myles Gaines ’17 then gained 24 yards along the right sideline, and Cazzetta’s 25-yard attempt knotted the game at 10–10 at the break.
Yale continued its offensive efficiency in the second half, outscoring Cornell 28–13 after the break. The Elis’ offensive line created holes for the running backs and gave Furman time to find open receivers.
“We have a great culture on the line,” offensive lineman Ben Carbery ’15 said. “We communicate well together … What really impressed me about today was that we didn’t have the easiest first half, but the way we came out in the second half, we took over that game. The offense moved so smoothly.”
Also crucial to the Yale attack was Yale’s consistent and relentless defense.
On Cornell’s opening drive in the second half, Bulldog linebacker Andrew Larkin ’16 sacked Mathews for a nine-yard loss. Defensive back Cole Champion ’16 championed the Yale defense with 10 solo and five assisted tackles, and Palin had three solos and one assisted.
In addition to strong defensive play and a versatile offense, the Bulldogs made spectacular plays in tough situations.
On a crucial fourth down at the Cornell 47, Varga broke multiple tackles and spun through a hole in the line for a 19-yard gain. Three plays later, Yale converted a third down into a touchdown as Furman hit Randall for an eight-yard touchdown pass.
Randall went on to catch two more touchdown passes to tie the school record with three receiving touchdowns. The last player to have three receiving touchdowns in a game was wide receiver Ashley Wright ’07 in 2005 — also against Cornell.
Time was of the essence for the Yale offense — only two of its scoring drives lasted more than three minutes. On one drive, the Elis ran seven plays for 66 yards in 41 seconds.
“We talked a lot about controlling the controllables: turnovers, penalties and third-down conversions,” Reno said. “The kids did a great job — it’s all them. I can’t say how proud I am of this group.”
Yale managed to attain a 54-point swing from last year’s defeat to this year’s victory.
The Elis will travel across the country to face no. 18 Cal Poly (2–2, 1–0 Big Sky) on Saturday, Oct. 5.