The Yale football team bounced back from a disappointing season opener to pencil in a narrow victory, beginning conference play on the path to defending its Ivy League crown.
The Bulldogs (1–1, 1–0 Ivy) traveled to Ithaca to face Cornell (0–2, 0–1) in Team 146’s Ivy kickoff. The Elis entered week two off a shocking overtime loss to Holy Cross after blowing a 21–0 first-quarter lead. On Saturday — looking to overcome their lackluster start — the Bulldogs, who were picked to finish first in the Ancient Eight, played a tight back-and-forth game that saw them often ahead but never quite comfortable as they eked out a 30–26 victory against a scrappy Cornell squad.
“Our team really grew a lot in the week,” head coach Tony Reno said. “I think it speaks volumes to the culture we have. We’ve instilled a culture of standards and relationships, and our guys care so deeply about each other that they play for each other.”
Although Yale jumped out to an early lead with running back Zane Dudek ’21 capping off a seven-play drive with a five-yard touchdown just five minutes into the first quarter, the home squad proved difficult to shake. The Big Red responded to the Elis’ opening score with an equalizer just two minutes later off a 40-yard scoring scamper.
Team 146 pulled ahead 14–7 two minutes after Cornell’s first touchdown, but the Big Red answered to tie at 14-–14 late in the opening period.
Neither team could find the end zone in the second and third quarters, but the Elis managed to hold the Big Red scoreless while putting nine points of their own on the board. Coming off a trio of successful field goals from kicker Alex Galland ’19, Yale entered the final frame up 23–14.
A Cornell touchdown early in the fourth quarter put the Big Red within striking distance at 23–21. Both teams failed to put together a scoring drive for most of the period, but Yale put an end to its uneasy advantage with a successful seven-play series in the final four minutes to pull ahead 30–21 off a six-yard touchdown rush from first-year running back Spencer Alston ’22. Although the Big Red battled back with a field goal pulling the hosts within a touchdown of the Bulldogs, time ran out on Cornell’s comeback attempt as the Elis escaped Schoellkopf Field with a 30–24 triumph.
The game, although close against a squad Yale defeated 49–24 in 2017, demonstrated some promising signs for a relatively young team. On Saturday just one senior started for both Team 146 and Holy Cross, but Team 146’s returning talent proved more than capable against the Big Red. Quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 dominated Cornell’s secondary as he was 18-of-25 throwing for 283 yards. Wideouts JP Shohfi ’20 and Reed Klubnik ’20 caught the majority of Rawlings’ passes, combing for 13 receptions for 191 yards on the day.
“We were just trying to take what they gave us,” Shofi said. “We were struggling to finish drives at times. Ultimately, we just kept pounding. It was a [goal] to just win your individual plays, fight for those four to six seconds and just keep grinding. I think our mental attitude and determination to finish plays really got us through the game.”
Yale’s elite ground game was on full display against the Big Red with Dudek running for two touchdowns on Saturday. Zane Dudek ’21, the 2017 Phil Steele FCS Offensive Freshman of the Year and First Team Freshman All-American, now ranks second in the conference in rushing yards with 250 this season. Alston also provided a much-needed spark for the Elis, running for 130 yards and a score while also notching a 21 yard reception out of the backfield.
Other first years also made significant contributions to the Bulldogs’ first conference win of the season. Defensive back Dathan Hickey ’22, linebacker Noah Pope ’22 and defensive lineman Reid Nickerson ’22 combined for six solo tackles against the Big Red.
“The biggest thing for us is just our ability to respond,” linebacker Micah Awodiran ’21 said. “[Cornell] made some plays here and there, but we just really focused on what our game plan was. It was a great team effort, everyone just playing as one, believing in each other, believing in the coaching staff that we could do this.”
The Elis will look to defend the Yale Bowl in Saturday’s home opener against Maine.
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