After a 28-point victory against Lehigh, the Yale football team asserted itself once again against an overmatched Cornell team. The Bulldogs relied on their rushing attack in the second half to defeat the Big Red 49–24 in their home opener, marking their twelfth win in the last 17 meetings.

The Bulldogs (2–0, 1–0 Ivy) struggled to overcome penalties and a costly interception in the first half. However, the unit found success running the ball in the final two quarters to triumph over the Big Red (0–2, 0–1), a team which was picked to finish last in the 2017 Ivy League pre-season media poll. The Elis averaged 8.8 yards per rushing attempt, led by running backs Zane Dudek ’21 and Deshawn Salter ’18, who amassed a combined 316 yards and four touchdowns. The Yale defense sacked Cornell quarterback Dalton Banks six times.

“I think we’re a very aggressive football team and that’s how I want it,” head coach Tony Reno said. “I don’t want to take away from our aggression but I want us to improve on our technique and that’s something we’re gonna spend a lot of time on each and every day to do that. I’m proud of these kids, proud of this team, and excited to see us move forward next week.”

A week after an electric Yale offense propelled Team 145 to a convincing victory against Lehigh, the Bulldogs’ defense took the lead against Cornell. With the offense sputtering for just 22 yards, one first down and an interception on its first three drives, the defensive unit kept the Elis above water in the opening half.

On the very first drive of the game, Yale looked to be in trouble as the visiting offense navigated down the field with ease. Banks threw for one first down and ran for another as he drove his team nearly the length of the field. Aided by three Bulldog penalties, two of which gifted Cornell first downs, the Big Red were on the verge of scoring with a third-and-goal attempt from the Eli four-yard line.

However, Team 145 showed great resilience when it mattered the most, as defensive lineman Nicholas Crowle ’18 batted down Banks’ throw on the crucial third-down try, limiting the visitors to just three points on the possession. From that point, the defense only improved, as a combination of effective pressure packages and ball-hawking coverage forced Banks to throw two interceptions, one of which free safety Hayden Carlson ’18 returned for the first touchdown of his career.

Although the defense finally relinquished a touchdown to Cornell, after a fumble by wide receiver Chris Williams-Lopez ’18 gave the Big Red an extremely short field, the unit bought the offense just enough time to find its rhythm.

“The defense played well,” captain and cornerback Spencer Rymiszewski ’18 said. “We have a lot of guys that have an aggressive mentality who want to play defense with complete aggression and physicality. We want to be the attackers.”

After an opening 25 minutes of out-of-sync football, quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 got things going in his final drive of the half. The signal caller found wide receiver Reed Klubnik ’20 — a virtual non-factor in Week 1— for consecutive throws of 27 and 22 yards, before keeping it himself on a 14-yard scoring run to put Yale up 14–10.

At halftime, the defense had been on the field for 50 plays while the offense gained just six first downs and committed two turnovers; yet, the Bulldogs still held a four-point advantage. Content with a lead but unsatisfied with their play, the Elis came out for the second half looking to establish themselves through the ground game.

Following a 14-yard completion to tight end Jaeden Graham ’18 on the Bulldogs’ first offensive drive of the second half, Yale ran the ball on 29 of its next 32 snaps.

The talented backfield duo of running backs Dudek and Salter quickly brought the Elis down the field against the Ivy League’s worst rushing defense. Salter capped off a pair of 80-yard drives with two short touchdown runs to extend the home squad’s advantage to 28–10. Dudek, who finished as the game’s leading rusher, earned Ivy League Rookie of the Week accolades for his 173-yard performance which included a touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

Yale’s red zone defense came up with stops all afternoon, but none were bigger than when the Bulldogs forced a missed field goal after Cornell began with a first-and-goal from Yale’s five-yard line. That sequence came after defensive back Jason Alessi ’18 picked off Banks late in the first quarter as the Big Red drove deep into Yale territory.

Cornell refused to roll over, as running back Harold Coles ignited the opposing sideline with a 90-yard touchdown run on the sophomore’s first carry of the afternoon. Another scoring strike, this time a 57-yard reception by James Hubbard, brought the Big Red’s deficit to 11 points, midway through the fourth quarter.

But Salter quickly dashed any chances of a Cornell comeback with an 82-yard touchdown carry on the first play of the ensuing drive. Salter, utilized more as power back in short yardage scenarios, displayed his incendiary speed on the longest run of the senior’s career, sealing the 49–24 victory.

“I really got around the corner and there was no one there,” Salter said. “At that point it was a track meet. It was easy on me, but I have to thank those big guys up front. Our offensive line did really well.”

The Bulldogs will head to the Bronx this Saturday for a primetime matchup against Fordham at 6 p.m.

Joey Kamm | joseph.kamm@yale.edu 

Won Jung | won.jung@yale.edu.