While last week marked the first time in 10 years in which the Yale football team did not open its season with a win, this week’s loss to Cornell in the Ivy season opener signified the first time in 19 years that Yale has started 0–2.
The Bulldogs (0–2, 0–1 Ivy) struggled in the first half on both sides of the ball with two interceptions and fumble leaving plenty of opportunity for the Big Red (2–0, 1–0) to establish a 17-point lead. Although the Eli defense stepped up after the break by only giving up three additional points, the Yale offense was only able to muster 10 points, finishing the game trailing Cornell 27–13.
“[Cornell] did a great job of controlling the football in the first half and being opportunistic on defense, limiting some opportunities in the first half for us and making some big plays,” Yale head coach Tony Reno said. “Turnovers really hurt us in the first half [and] put Cornell in some really good field position. We didn’t convert on opportunities we had offensively and defensively.”
For the second week in a row, opposing wide receivers were able to get behind the Yale secondary and go deep in the first half. Cornell quarterback Dalton Banks connected with wide receiver Marshall Deutz on a 43-yard touchdown strike in the second quarter, and then later hit another wide receiver on a 38-yard pass to set up a field goal before halftime, reminiscent of the 39- and 55-yard touchdown passes Yale gave up against Colgate.
“Each side of the ball had [its] moments,” Cornell head coach David Archer said. “Having a first half performance was key because [we] jumped on them early.”
Ultimately, the passing game on both sides of the ball has been the biggest challenge for the Bulldogs -— who have been outscored 82–26 the last two weeks — thus far. While the Elis were outgained by 370 yards against Colgate last week, they reduced that deficit to only 68 yards against Cornell.
Quarterback Rafe Chapple ’18 started the game for Yale, but was not able to get into a rhythm with his receivers. Chapple gained only 40 yards in the air in the first half on just three completions. After the junior threw two interceptions, Tre Moore ’19 replaced Chapple with 2:21 left in the half. Chapple did not return for the rest of the game.
While Moore played sparingly in the first half, he took over behind center for the entire second half, which proved to be a productive change for the Yale offense. Moore went on to throw for 174 yards and finished with a 64 percent completion rate.
“We thought the game was going fast for Rafe and we felt we needed to make a change in the position,” Reno said. “Rafe and Tre had been competing all spring, and we felt it was time to give Tre an opportunity.”
After throwing for 61 yards on the first possession of the second half, Moore handed the ball to running back Deshawn Salter ’18 for a one-yard run and Yale’s only touchdown of the game. Salter finished with 32 rushing yards on seven carries while running back Dale Harris ’17, who started the game for Yale, finished with 43 yards on 13 carries.
In another bright spot for the Elis, wide receiver Christopher Williams-Lopez ’18 led both teams with 92 receiving yards on six receptions.
Offensive productivity was not the only way in which Yale improved in the second half. The Big Red offense produced nothing more than a field goal in the second half, as the Bulldog defense ceded just 101 total yards and Yale actually outgained the Big Red by 74 yards. The Elis also led Cornell in sacks 2–1 in both halves, including a third down tackle by defensive end Kyle Mullen ’19 that forced the Big Red to kick before midfield in their first drive of the fourth quarter.
According to defensive back Foye Oluokun ’17, the team did not make many adjustments at halftime but simply played better defensively in the back half of the contest.
Both teams ceded one fumble to the opposition, though the Bulldogs threw three interceptions to Cornell’s zero. While the Big Red scored just one touchdown off of a turnover, it came on one of Yale’s few productive drives, killing any momentum the Bulldogs had. After two games, the Elis have committed five more turnovers than their opponents.
Safety Hayden Carlson ’18 did his part to move the turnover battle back into Yale’s favor, recovering a fumble for the lone Big Red turnover and his third takeaway of the season. Carlson finished the game with eight tackles, two behind Oluokun, who had a big impact in his first game back from last year’s season-ending injury.
Yale will seek to end this early-season skid next Saturday at home against Lehigh.