The football season started a week later than scheduled, but everything else went according to plan as Yale drubbed Cornell in its Ivy League opener.
The Bulldogs (1-0, 1-0 Ivy) outplayed the Big Red (0-1, 0-1) in every aspect of the game Saturday en route to a 40-13 victory before 20,269 at the Yale Bowl. On offense, Billy Brown ’02 had a breakout game at wide receiver, hauling in three of senior Peter Lee’s four touchdown passes.
But the story was the Yale defense that stymied Cornell and forced record-setting quarterback Ricky Rahne’s worst career performance.
“In the end, the teams that play defense in this league are generally the teams that win the championship,” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said.
For two straight years, the Elis have been the top defensive unit in the Ancient Eight, and they continued their dominance Saturday.
The Eli pass rush harassed an overmatched Rahne all afternoon, with captain Tim Penna ’02 in on two first-quarter sacks to set the tone early.
For its part, the Yale secondary, led by Ryan LoProto ’02, gave the oft-scrambling Big Red quarterback very little to work with, deflecting eight of his passes and smothering his wide receivers all day long.
“We didn’t hook up the way that we know how, and I’ll take responsibility for that,” Rahne said. “If we do complete a pass, they make a tackle right away.”
Cornell threatened to take an early lead five minutes into the game with a 44-yard field goal attempt by Peter Iverson, but a leaping Penna deflected the ball and kept the game scoreless.
The defensive performance, which limited Cornell to only 230 yards and held the Big Red without first downs on six possessions, was even more impressive considering left end Stuart Satullo ’03, last year’s Ivy League sack leader, and expected starting linebacker Keith Estrera ’04 missed the game with injuries.
“What helped us a lot was they couldn’t run the football against us,” LoProto said. “When they were throwing the ball, we knew they were throwing the ball.”
The Bulldogs, on the other hand, were able to manage a balanced attack and keep the Cornell defense on its heels all day. After poor field position and a slow start in the first quarter, the Yale offense came alive in the second quarter.
The Yale defense forced Cornell to punt from its own 20-yard line, giving Lee and his teammates excellent field position at the Big Red 43-yard line.
Lee threw a strike over the middle to Keith Reams ’02 for gain of 21 yards and followed that play by finding Brown in the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown pass with 10 minutes left to play in the half.
After the two teams traded field goals, the Elis took over the ball on their own 36 with less than three minutes left in the half.
Lee executed the two-minute drill flawlessly, spreading the ball to tight end Nate Lawrie ’04, receiver P.J. Collins ’04 and Reams to get the Elis into the red zone. With three seconds left on the clock, Lee and Brown hooked up again, this time for a 17-yard touchdown reception for a 17-3 Yale lead.
“The drive before the half was a big-time football drive,” Siedlecki said. “That was a classic two-minute drive.”
The drive gave the Elis a huge momentum boost heading into the second half, a boost that was bolstered by a big defensive stop early in the third quarter. A Yale fumble deep in its own territory allowed Cornell to take possession at the Eli 9-yard line.
The Bulldogs stopped Cornell runs on the first two plays, and Ray Littleton ’02 nearly intercepted a Rahne pass to Tim Hermann on third down, forcing the Big Red to settle for a field goal.
“That was a real big stop for us because that could have been a huge swing in momentum,” Penna said.
The Bulldogs then put the game out of reach with three straight scoring drives. Lee — who completed 23 of 31 passes for 279 passing yards and four TDs — hit James Keppel ’02 and Brown on short touchdown passes that sandwiched a Justin Davis ’02 field goal to give Yale a 34-6 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Rahne was able to find Hermann for a 21-yard touchdown pass with 9:36 left to play, but it was too little, too late for the Big Red.
Freshman Robert Carr ’05 — making his debut because of injuries to Pat Bydume ’04 and Jay Schulze ’03 — capped the Yale scoring with a 45-yard touchdown run with five and half minutes remaining.
The victory marks the first time in three years that Yale has won its Ivy League opener and was an important early win for a squad filled with new faces.
Siedlecki said Lee and Keppel were the only two players going into the game who have consistently made big plays. After the game, the performances of Brown, Penna and others showed there are a number of Elis waiting to be added to that list.
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