The current Ivy League football season has been nothing less than a jarring game of bumper cars
Eight schools, thrown together into one rink, have repeatedly bounced into each other, producing numerous unpredictable results. While some teams, like Dartmouth, have been rudely jolted backwards, most battles have yielded highly unconventional outcomes. One-point squeakers, monstrous blowouts, incomprehensible upsets, a top-heavy standings table — confusion is the keyword of this year’s schedule.
And yet, through all the smoke and clouds, Cornell is still sitting the drivers’ seat in the Ivy title race. And while it does share that spot with Harvard and Penn, those two will duke it out at Franklin Field tomorrow. So, for all its crazy finishes, its early-season running offense and defense deficiencies, its non-league blowout losses, the Red (4-4, 4-1 Ivy) has complete command of its fate going into its Big Apple showdown against Columbia (3-5, 1-4 Ivy).
“We’re playing for the right to control our own destiny,” affirmed head coach Pete Mangurian.” If we do what we’re supposed to, then Harvard and Penn and all that doesn’t mean a thing.”
“This is where you want to be at this point in the season,” junior quarterback Ricky Rahne echoed.
After being hammered 56-40 at Brown nearly a month ago, the Red has surged in its last couple of games, nipping Princeton, 25-24 and then pounding Dartmouth, 49-31.
Much of the credit for those wins must go to the running game, which has clearly turned the corner. Junior tailback Evan Simmons has run for at least 100 yards two games running now, having apparently exorcised his demons and subpar early-season performances.
“For us to be our most successful, we have to have a running game,” asserted Rahne who surpassed the 5,000-yard passing mark last Saturday against the Green. “So we’re going to try to establish what we can [tomorrow].”
The addition of freshman Larry Stark into the starting line-up of the offensive line seemed to pay huge dividends against Dartmouth.
“[Larry’s] learning quick,” Rahne said about the 320-pound rookie. “He’s obviously been a welcome addition to our team.”
Although Columbia has floundered recently — having stomached two back-to-back shutouts at the hands of Yale and Harvard — it nonetheless sports one of the most potent running games in the league. Johnathan Reese already has 1,151 yards on the year, putting him seventh-best in Division I-A.
“This guy looks like the real deal. If he’s not the best back in the league…” Mangurian trailed off.
That sets up an interesting match-up between Reese and Cornell’s running defense, which is allowing 254.9 yards per game on the ground.
“We’ve got to find a way to slow him down enough where he doesn’t beat us,” Mangurian continued. “We’ve been challenged by the running game [before] and that’s going to be our challenge again.”
Last year at Schoellkopf Field, junior kicker Peter Iverson made good on a 39-yard field goal attempt with 39 seconds remaining to hand the Red a 31-29 lead. But, with the game at Wien Stadium this season, Columbia holds a sizable home-field advantage, recording a 3-1 record there so far.
“Columbia’s a much better team than their record would indicate,” Rahne warned.
“I’m sure they’re not going to go out easy,” Iverson echoed.
A victory tomorrow would at least assure the Red a shot at playing for a share of the Ivy crown next week against the Quakers, but as Mangurian is quick to point out, there is no other option than taking this absurd and hectic season one game at a time.
He said, “This is a marathon not a sprint.”
Archived article by Shiva Nagaraj