The football team earned its first conference win of the season with a 21-14 victory over Cornell on its return to the comfortable confines of Brown Stadium Saturday.
After a three-game stretch on the road that ended with a shutout loss to a surging Princeton squad, the Bears (4-2, 1-2 Ivy) were looking to rebound from a disappointing loss and climb out of the bottom of the league standings.
But with injuries straining the Bears' offense, it seemed that it was going to be a difficult undertaking.
Along with offensive lineman Jack Templeton '13 and fullback Cody Taulbee '14, running backs Spiro Theodhosi '12.5 and Mark Kachmer '13, who led the team's dynamic rushing attack early in the season, were all out with injuries in the matchup against the Big Red (3-3, 1-2), forcing the Bears to adjust their starting lineup and adapt their offensive strategy.
But if the season-high 452 total yards they put up against Cornell are any indication, the Bears' offense was able to move past these injuries, helping the team to what Head Coach Phil Estes described as a "good win under extreme circumstances."
Leading that charge was running back Jordan Reisner '14, the afternoon's breakout star. Reisner, who was fifth on the Bears' tailback depth chart just two weeks ago, ran for an impressive 193 yards and two touchdowns in his first varsity start. He averaged 8.8 yards per carry.
"We knew we had to run the football and do some things differently than we've done before, but we didn't go in there with the expectation that they would do extraordinary things," Estes said. "It was about seeing what they were going to give us. But Jordan had an exceptional game. He took ordinary plays and made them big plays."
Though he was only on the field for a few plays earlier this season, Reisner said the transition from playing junior varsity to starting a game in the varsity program "felt natural" for him, since he has been practicing with the team and watching film all along.
But Estes also said that credit was due to the offensive line for doing a "great job of creating holes" for Reisner and Jeffrey Izon '13, who chipped in 46 yards, to get past the line of scrimmage.
On defense, the Bears were able to put consistent pressure on All-American quarterback Jeff Mathews, notching three sacks along with three critical interceptions.
Co-captain and defensive back AJ Cruz '13 pinned much of the defense's success on the effective strategies designed by the coaches.
"The rest of that is just executing," Cruz said.
"Our defensive plan was to create a lot of different looks: showing him zone and being man, showing him man and being zone," Estes said. "We were making it difficult for him to pinpoint where we were coming from."
Despite this pressure, Mathews was able to put his league-leading passing abilities on display, throwing for 357 yards, right in line with his season average of 354 per game. Estes said this did not reflect on Bruno's defensive performance in any way.
"It's about keeping them out of the end zone and not about the number of yards they get," he said. "We played extremely well against a very good offense."
The Bears struck first in the game, pleasing the crowd brought in by Family Weekend. They moved the ball 87 yards in nine plays for a touchdown on their first drive of the game. After converting on three consecutive first downs, quarterback Patrick Donnelly '13 capped the explosive series by breaking through the Big Red defense for a 26-yard run of his own.
Bruno's next chance to score came toward the end of the half, when a 15-yard run by Reisner put the team within field goal range. But Alex Norocea '14 slipped on the wet grass, missing the 43-yard attempt.
Cornell struggled to build offensive momentum through the first two quarters, with a series of ill-timed penalties exacerbating the lack of offensive fluidity. Down 7-0, the Big Red was going for a fourth-and-one conversion on the Brown 38 in the beginning of the second quarter, but a false start made them reconsider and punt instead. Later in the quarter, a set of good passes by Mathews quickly moved Cornell into Bruno territory, but a false start once again halted their progress. Immediately following this second penalty, Mathews was sacked and fumbled the ball, though the Big Red recovered for a loss of 15.
Reisner ran for 51 yards as the second quarter expired, putting an emphatic cap on his breakout first half.
But Cornell quickly tied up the game after the break. The Big Red's Brett Buehler recovered a fumble by Tellef Lundevall '13 and returned it 32 yards to the 14-yard line. A few plays later, a "phantom pass interference" - which Estes said was a "bad, bad call" - was called on Cruz, which set up the Cornell offense at the 2-yard line with a first and goal. Luke Hagy then ran it in for the short touchdown.
The Bears' response on the next drive prevented any momentum shift in the Big Red's direction. In just over two minutes, Bruno moved the ball 77 yards, and the drive was capped off by a Reisner 27-yard touchdown run.
"I don't think Cornell really knew what to expect," Reisner said. "We had two of our top running backs gone, and so they probably assumed we would have more of an aerial attack. They weren't sure how to play us."
Though Taylor Betros intercepted Donnelly's pass later in the third, the Big Red could not catch any breaks. In a three-play span, the team was called for its third false start of the game, Mathews was sacked for a loss of 10 and a Matthews pass was intercepted by Cruz.
Each team would go on to score one more touchdown, keeping the game close at 21-14 with 2:54 left to go. Cornell had a few good opportunities to stage a comeback, but two fourth-quarter interceptions - one in the end zone by linebacker Stephen Zambetti '13 and another by defensive back Emory Polley '14 to seal the game - kept Bruno ahead.
Cruz said the team will continue to focus on "coming down with more third-down stops" and preventing opponents from scoring touchdowns when they get into the red zone. The Bears limited Cornell to one third-down conversion on 13 opportunities.
Estes said he was pleased with the team's progress and its ability to rebound with confidence from last week's loss. "After the game against Princeton, we could've gone south," he said. "But we went north."
Regardless, Estes said the team will need to start preparing for their next opponent. "I'm happy, but we're ready to go back to work. It's no different than a loss. You get rid of a win as quickly as a loss," he said.
Bruno will be on the road again next week, traveling to Philadelphia to battle a Penn team coming off an unexpected loss to Yale this week.
"As long as we're doing our job as a unit, good things are going to happen," Reisner said.