Big Red Edges Bulldogs 14-12

Paul  Rice. (photo by Kevin McCarthy)
Paul Rice. (photo by Kevin McCarthy)

Mante Ties Ivy Record with 54-Yard Field Goal

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - An 81-yard touchdown on Cornell's first play from scrimmage provided a rough start to Saturday's game for Yale at the Yale Bowl, Class of 1954 Field. But the Bulldog defense then proceeded to shut the Big Red down, allowing only 85 yards of total offense the rest of the way, and the offense found itself in a position to tie the game after a 1-yard touchdown run by sophomore quarterback Patrick Witt made the score 14-12 Cornell with no time left on the clock in the fourth quarter. But the Bulldogs could not complete the two-point conversion, and Cornell came away with the win in the Ivy League opener for both teams.

"We had our opportunities, we just couldn't capitalize," said Tom Williams, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football, who was making his Yale Bowl debut after a 31-10 win at Georgetown the week before. "We had guys open, we had opportunities in the run game, and there was a time where we were getting four or five yards per play. But then we'd shoot ourselves in the foot with a penalty [Yale had seven] or a turnover [Yale had three]."

Yale (1-1, 0-1 Ivy League) played nearly the whole game from behind. After a three-and-out by the Bulldog offense, Cornell got the ball at its own 19 at 13:35 of the first and scored nine seconds later. Quarterback Ben Ganter threw a lateral pass to receiver Stephen Liuzza (a former quarterback) on the left sideline. Liuzza then lofted one down the sideline to receiver Bryan Walters, wide open for the 81-yard touchdown.

"[Yale's defense] is really aggressive," said Cornell head coach Jim Knowles, whose team improved to 2-0 on the year and 1-0 in the league. "They're just a great defense. Those are the things you have to do versus a great defense to have a chance. And you have to do it early."

That would be the last big play allowed by the Yale defense, as none of Cornell's drives the rest of the game went longer than 21 yards. Fourteen of them ended in three-and-outs, including one on an interception by senior linebacker Tim Handlon at the Big Red 15 in the first quarter. That set up Yale's first score, a 23-yard field goal by senior placekicker/punter Tom Mante.

As the defense continued to shut the Big Red down Mante provided another highlight just before halftime. Facing a fourth-and-10 on the Cornell 38, and knowing that Mante had booted a 50-yarder just last week at Georgetown, the Bulldogs called on him for an Ivy League record-tying 54-yarder that would have been good from even further out.

"That was a huge momentum swing," said Williams. "We had been picking away and picking away, and that was the shot we needed. Tom is a weapon and we're going to use him as such."

But it was another big play by the Big Red that wound up providing the deciding score in the third quarter. Witt had gone without an interception on his first 57 pass attempts, but Cornell rover Anthony Ambrosi got one at the Yale 20 and took it the other way for a 14-6 lead with 6:18 left in the third.

The Bulldogs regrouped and put together another effective drive early in the fourth, as a leaping 11-yard grab on the sideline by junior wide receiver Peter Balsam converted a third-and-10 and got the ball to the 23. Two plays later junior wide receiver Jordan Forney dove for an over-the-shoulder catch and a 20-yard gain to the Cornell three. But two plays later an interception in the end zone by Cornell safety Dempsey Quinn ended the scoring threat with 11:59 left in the game.

The teams then traded punts, and a tackle by senior strong safety Larry Abare on a third-and-three forced Cornell to punt with 1:42 left rather than running out the clock. The Big Red finished just 2-for-18 on third-down conversions.

The Bulldogs were confident heading into the final drive, and had a home crowd of 17,654 -- many on hand for the annual Youth Day activities -- behind them.

"I was ready for OT," said senior linebacker Paul Rice, the team captain. "I think the whole sideline was ready for OT."

First, Witt had to convert a third-and-10 with a 10-yard toss to Forney on the left sideline. Two plays later he chose the right time to pull the ball down and scramble, gaining 23 yards to the 14 with 59 seconds left. After an incompletion, Witt hit senior H-back John Sheffield twice, and the second one brought Yale inches from a first down. Witt then kept the ball to get two yards to the Big Red three.

After an incompletion and a false start with 29 seconds to play Witt again hit Sheffield, but he was stopped just shy of the goal line. With six seconds to play and the ball on the one, Cornell called time, but Witt kept the ball on the next play and went into the end zone with no time left.

"We all knew we were going to score," said senior tailback Jordan Farrell, who ran for 74 yards on 25 carries. "We knew we were going to put it in the end zone. The only thing that was different was the two-point conversion."

The Bulldogs had the play they wanted on the conversion, but Witt's pass was knocked to the turf in the end zone and the Big Red celebrated its first win in New Haven since 1996.

"They had been a man-to-man team, especially in the red zone," Williams said. "We had a rub route called with the opportunity to get the guy open in the flat. We had what we wanted, we just didn't execute."

The loss overshadowed another great day by the Yale defense, which has allowed one touchdown in the season's first two games. Rice led the way with six solo tackles, while junior defensive tackle Joe Young and junior outside linebacker Sean Williams added four solos (including a sack by Young) and one assist each.

"Any loss this early in the season is tough to take, especially in the league," said Rice. "Still, I have no doubt that we can rebound from this and be in contention for an Ivy League title. We obviously have to fix some things in all three phases of the game, but there is talent on this team to win."

Yale hosts Lafayette in a non-league game next Saturday at Noon.

Video Highlights With Audio from 960 WELI, Ron Vaccaro '04 play-by-play and Carm Cozza color


Audio Highlights from 960 WELI, Ron Vaccaro '04 play-by-play and Carm Cozza color:

• Tim Handlon in terception 
Tom Mante field goal
Patrick Witt touchdown run

Report by Sam Rubin '95 (, Yale Sports Publicity