As Cornell fans chanted “overrated” during Yale’s last drive, which included three dropped passes, the Yale faithful sat in silent disbelief.
The Big Red (1-1, 1-0 Ivy) definitively defeated the Bulldogs (1-1, 0-1 Ivy) 19-7 Saturday at Schoellkopf Field in Ithaca. Although the exhausted Eli defense held up well for most of the game, Yale’s offense was lethargic at best, never entering the red zone and executing only one strong scoring drive. Cornell dominated the time of possession with 39:39, holding the Elis to 20:21 and forcing the defense to play with few breaks. The Bulldogs also lost starting linebacker Ken Estrera ’05, who broke his leg in the second quarter.
Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said he did not know what caused the problems on the field.
“We had great expectations, and we did nothing to prove that,” he said. “Numbers don’t mean anything, you’ve got to play. The defense played their guts out, but we never found any answers on offense.”
Captain Rory Hennessey ’05 blamed himself for the loss.
“I didn’t get everyone ready,” Hennessey said. “It’s the captain’s job to get everyone ready, to get all of the players to help pick up the pace. We are going through a fog.”
For an offense that averaged 4.3 touchdowns per game last season, the Bulldogs only found the end zone once against the Big Red. Two long balls from signal-caller Alvin Cowan ’05 to wide receiver Ralph Plumb ’05 were the key plays in that scoring drive. Cowan finished the day passing for 146 yards on 15 of 33 completions, seven of which went to Plumb for 99 yards. Wide receiver Chandler Henley ’05, who had 112 yards versus Dayton, was held to eight yards receiving. Tight end Alex Faherty ’05 and wide-out William Blodgett ’06 also contributed with 17 and 22 yards respectively.
Plumb said the Elis’ main problem was execution.
“The offensive skill players haven’t been making the plays,” Plumb said. “It was tough to get into a rhythm. The only reason we were in the game was the defense.”
The Eli air attack in Ithaca was characterized by many missed opportunities. Sometimes Cowan overthrew his receivers, and on other plays the receivers were in the wrong place at the wrong time. As a consequence, many possessions ended after third-and-long situations. The Bulldogs were one of 14 on third down conversions.
“It’s real [frustrating],” Cowan said. “I feel like we let the defense down. It came easily to us last year. When things don’t go perfect guys start getting upset.”
The usually prolific Eli run game also came up empty against a physical Red offensive line and secondary. Tailback Rob Carr ’05 finished the day with 41 rushing yards on 15 carries. And because of three Cornell sacks, Cowan had negative six yards rushing.
Cornell, on the other hand, controlled the clock by giving the ball to its two tenacious backs, Joshua Johnston and Andre Hardaway, who combined for 133 net yards. Cornell’s new head coach Jim Knowles attributed the successful game to his strong defense and balanced offensive strategy, which included big plays from quarterback D.J. Busch. Cornell snapped a 10-game losing streak with the win, earning Knowles his first victory at home.
“It’s awesome, I am so proud,” Knowles said. “We’ve totally changed, I feel, attitudes and culture.”
At halftime, the Bulldogs were only down 9-7 because the defense stopped the Big Red in the red zone three times. This determination was characteristic of the way Yale’s defense played throughout. Cole Harris ’05, who stepped in for the injured Estrera, led the team with 12 tackles — six solo and six assisted. Though he missed the second half, Estrera had 11 total tackles for the day. Tight ends Don Smith ’05 and Brandon Dyches ’06 combined to shut down five Cornell drives and each finished with four tackles for losses. Dyches and Brandon Etheridge ’07 each made a sack for the Elis.
Smith said the defense had a strong game overall, although it probably gave up too many yards on some drives.
“Every time you go out, you want to make plays and get off the field, that’s our job,” Smith said. “I think we were able to get good pressure up the middle. We have come a long way as a program.”
Cowan said there was one positive to take from the loss.
“We tried to come together and play as a team,” Cowan said. “That was a step in the right direction.”
While some critics say an early loss in Ivy League play could ruin championship hopes, Smith said now is not the time to panic.
“The offense is going to click, and I don’t think anyone in the Ivy league is going to go undefeated,” Smith said. “We are going to go back to the drawing board.”
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