A team’s first loss is always tough. The way it happened for the Bulldogs, however, made it all the worse.
Trailing 14-6 with 1:35 left in the fourth quarter after posting only two field goals on the day, the Elis marched down the field to score a touchdown as time expired. With the crowd at the Yale Bowl on its feet, overtime was within reach. But quarterback Patrick Witt’s ’12 pass on the two-point conversion attempt was batted down by the Cornell defense, and Yale lost, 14-12.
Throughout the game, Yale (1-1, 0-1 Ivy) failed to take advantage of a strong performance by its defense as Cornell (2-0, 1-0) limited the Bulldogs to two field goals for most of the game.
“We wasted a great effort by our defense,” said head coach Tom Williams, who was being honored on Saturday in Connecticut’s first “Tom Williams Day.” “We had our opportunities; we just didn’t capitalize on them.”
Cornell led throughout the afternoon, as they scored a touchdown on its first offensive play — a trick double pass play from senior quarterback Ben Ganter to senior wide receiver Stephen Liuzza, who then threw to wide-open senior receiver Bryan Walters for an 81-yard touchdown.
“They knew we were an aggressive defense, and we were a bit up on them,” captain and linebacker Paul Rice ’10 said. “It was the right play at the right time.”
The rest of the game was a defensive struggle: Cornell punted 15 times, Yale 12 times.
But despite the staunch Bulldog defense, the offense failed to capitalize on the favorable field position that they often found themselves in.
Although the Yale offense was able to move the ball downfield more consistently than Cornell — the Bulldogs made 15 first-downs, compared to Cornell’s three — the Elis could not put together a touchdown drive until the end of the game.
One of Yale’s best opportunities came midway through the first quarter, after middle linebacker Tim Handlon ’10 made a diving interception at the Big Red’s own 19-yard line.
On third and six, wide receiver Jordan Forney ’11 made an 8-yard catch to give the Bulldogs first and goal on the 6-yard line. After a 1-yard run by Jordan Farrell ’10, Witt made two consecutive passes to Forney in the end zone. Both passes landed in Forney’s hands, but both throws fell incomplete and the Bulldogs were forced to settle for a 23-yard field goal by Tom Mante ’10.
Although Mante went on to miss a 42-yard field goal wide left midway through the second quarter, the senior redeemed himself in the last play of the half.
After three consecutive incomplete passes from Cornell’s 38-yard line, Mante sent a booming kick through the uprights. The kick tied the Yale and Ivy League record and sent the Bulldogs into halftime with the game’s momentum, although they were losing, 7-6.
“As soon as I saw it go straight up I knew I had the distance,” Mante said. “I was just waiting for it to come down and for them to put their arms up.”
Witt, who transferred from Nebraska, struggled in his second career collegiate start. Last week the culprit was fumbles. On Saturday, though, his weakness was with interceptions. Witt completed 21 of 54 passes for 180 yards and threw zero touchdowns and three interceptions.
With Yale pinned back at their 13 yard line, junior defensive back Anthony Ambrosi intercepted Witt’s pass on the 20-yard line and returned it for a touchdown to increase the Cornell lead to 14-6, after the PAT.
Two drives later, Witt was again intercepted — this time it came in the end zone, as the Bulldogs had second and goal on the Cornell 9-yard line.
It was not until the final drive of the game that Witt finally came alive.
After having watched the Eli defense once again force the Big Red to go 3-and-out, the Yale offense took over at Cornell’s 47 yard line. There was only 1:35 left in the game and all of the team’s time-outs had been used on the previous defensive stop.
On third and 10, Witt completed a 10-yard pass to Forney. Two plays later, Witt scrambled left, straddling the sideline before stepping out at the 14-yard line, making it clear that the Bulldogs were not going to give up just yet.
On fourth and inches at the 5-yard line, Witt once again carried the ball, pushing to the 3-yard line on the quarterback sneak.
At this point, spectators had stopped filing out of their seats and a group of students ran down the aisles to get closer to the action.
“I was ready for overtime,” Rice said. “I think the whole sideline was preparing mentally for overtime.”
Following an incomplete pass to Forney in the end zone and a false start penalty, Witt found H-back John Sheffield ’10 across the middle of the field. Sheffield reached outwards with the ball, but missed the goal line by less than a yard. With no time-outs and only six seconds left on the clock, the Bulldogs knew their next play would be the last of regulation.
And they made the most of it.
Coming out of a time-out that Cornell had taken, Witt kept the ball and ran to the right side before driving himself across the goal line to make the score 14-12.
What followed was chaotic.
Seconds after the score, Witt threw a short pass down the middle of the end zone to Forney, but he was covered by two defenders and the ball was knocked down to end the game.
The Yale players argued for defensive pass interference, but their complaints fell upon deaf ears, as the Cornell team charged the field in celebration.
“I was told our receiver got knocked down, but hey, that’s the way it goes — that’s football,” Williams said.
The win marked the second consecutive year that the Big Red have defeated the Bulldogs. Last year Cornell upset the Elis 17-14 in Ithaca, N.Y.