After having its home-opener ruined last week by the visiting San Diego Toreros, the football team decided to take it upon itself to do the same to Cornell when it traveled to Ithaca this weekend.
The Bulldogs (1-1, 1-0 Ivy) turned out an impressive all-around team performance, recording 280 yards of total offense and three scores while adamantly and repeatedly denying the Big Red (0-2, 0-1) a single end zone entry for a 21-9 victory. Linebacker Bobby Abare ’09 led the Yale defense with a team-high 10 tackles, and reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Year Mike McLeod ’09 rushed for 104 yards and added 41 yards receiving, tearing up the Cornell defense for all three Eli touchdowns.
Yale came out ready to attack from the opening kickoff. Steve Santoro ’09, whose first-ever kickoff return resulted in a touchdown last weekend, proved that his ability to evade defenders and find gaps was no beginner’s luck. His first 31-yard return set up Yale’s opening drive touchdown, while his second 31-yard return set up Yale’s clinching score.
“Our whole kick return unit is doing a great job,” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “And Steve has a knack for finding the opening and making something happen.”
After Santoro’s run set the Bulldogs up on their own 40, quarterback Matt Polhemus ’08 and the Eli offense went to work. Five plays later, McLeod caught a screen pass, found a hole in the defense and bolted 41 yards up the right sideline to put Yale up, 7-0.
“[Cornell] blitzed their linebackers and there was nobody out there except for the safety, who [offensive lineman Jeff Monaco ‘08] destroyed,” McLeod said.
Though Cornell was able to move the ball down the field efficiently for much of the game, the Yale defense stepped up when it mattered most and prevented touchdown attempt after touchdown attempt.
Following McLeod’s long run, Cornell answered, marching down the field to the Yale 5-yard line, but was denied from advancing any further. On third down, linebacker Michael Woodson ’07 forced a fumble as Cornell quarterback Nathan Ford ran up the middle and defensive tackle Jared Hamilton ’08 picked up the loose ball to give the Bulldogs possession.
“We made big plays in crucial situations,” Siedlecki said. “Our defense forced two turnovers and made big stops in short yardage situations.”
Cornell would have to settle for a 26-yard field goal early in the second quarter, again after being unable to penetrate Yale’s red-zone defense. The second half held more of the same, as the Big Red successfully advanced the ball down the field, but were unable to find the end zone.
“We’re certainly moving the ball well, but sometimes you get in a rut and you can’t get out of it,” Cornell head coach Jim Knowles said. “The score is the only thing that counts and we need to find a way to get the ball into the end zone.”
Despite Cornell’s inability to score touchdowns, the game was still close heading into the final minutes, with the Elis up 14-9. But Polhemus was able to show off his mobility again this week, and a 26-yard run put catapulted the Bulldogs to the Cornell 12-yard line. Two plays later, McLeod overpowered several would-be Cornell tacklers on his way to completing the hat-trick and icing the win.
The Bulldogs will ride their momentum into Pennsylvania this weekend, as the second contest of their three-game road trip leads them to the Lafayette Leopards.