October 19, 2001

Is Fifth Time the Charm?

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After squandering another chance to earn its first win of the season before a homecoming crowd of over 14,000, the football team (0-4, 0-2 Ivy) will look to have its first taste of victory when it hosts the Brown Bears (2-2, 1-1) tomorrow at 1 p.m.

The visitors are coming off a 35-24 routing of Princeton and sport a dangerously potent offense that has averaged nearly 500 yards per game this season. Senior tailback Michael Malan is arguably the most integral part of the scoring attack. He has run for more than 200 yards in each of his last two games — the first to accomplish the feat in program history. Brown’s running attack, which pairs Malan with junior Joey Rackley, a formidable second option, is undoubtedly among the league’s elite.

Malan has rewritten the record books in Providence, R.I., rushing for a school best 1,213 yards last year. He rushed for 100 or more yards on five occasions last season including a four touchdown effort against Cornell, claiming that the game reminded him of his high school days.

“They have a very balanced attack. [Malan] is a very hard runner and he proved that last year,” fifth year senior defensive back Phil Rigueur noted.

Brown’s running attack is disconcerting considering the Red’s trouble stopping the rush this year. Cornell has permitted its opponents to gain over 200 ground yards in three of its four contests, including surrendering nearly 300 at Colgate on Sept. 29. Missed tackles are a large part of the Red’s failed efforts, a concern that head coach Tim Pendergast and his team is well aware of.

“We’re not really changing anything. We’re going to play the same base stuff. The defense as a whole needs to step up and rally around each other,” Rigueur conceded.

Pendergast has put a premium on eradicating the necessity of the come-from-behind style that has become all but institutionalized on East Hill in the past few seasons.

“Every week it’s key to get a quick start. If you don’t, then you’re always playing catch-up. Over the last season and a half, [come backs have] been a tradition here. That’s something we’re trying to change,” he explained.

The Red has clearly struggled to meet that goal, never scoring first, having held leads in just two of its four games and never having enjoyed a four quarter advantage this season. Cornell can not afford to fall behind early against the high octane Bears. Brown is guided by senior quarterback Kyle Rowley, who experiencing his first year as a starter after the graduation of standout Eric Webber who claimed a Ivy League record with 4,832 total yards. Rowley has shown himself to be a capable successor, steering an aerial attack that averages 297 yards per game.

He has a strong line of defense in front of him in offensive lineman junior Nick Bardo and Dan Startsman, both honorable All-Ivy selections, though the unit lost All-American tackle Drew Inzer, who made an appearance in last year’s Blue-Gray game.

Cornell must eliminate costly turnovers that have helped turn close contests into blowouts for the opponent. Last week, junior fullback Brian Ulbricht coughed up the ball twice in the second quarter, killing the best scoring possibility the Red had prior to junior wideout Keith Ferguson’s fourth quarter carry.

“Part of ball possession is not turning it over. We’ve had the turnover bug the last few weeks,” Pendergast said.

The Red has a golden opportunity to correct the problem against a defense that has also not met expectations. Brown has forced just one fumble on the season and is allowing opponents 421 yards a game, or 29 fewer than Cornell has conceded on average.

Despite the awful start to the season, Pendergast remains confident in his team’s will to win.

“I honestly think that morale is outstanding. They look me in the eye and say, ‘Coach, we’re all right, we’re ready,'” Pendergast said.

Among the team, the sentiment seems to be one of disappointment but focus.

“There is some urgency. In the locker room, it’s a relaxed urgency,” freshman punter Mike Baumgartel explained.

Rigueur was more direct, announcing, “We need to win this weekend.” Red takes to the Schoellkopf Field carpet to resume its Ivy League campaign against Harvard in tomorrow afternoon’s Homecoming contest, head coach Tim Pendergast will have a chance to showcase his new look football squad. If the Red’s last two contests are any indication, the crowd should see a team that appears to be slowly but surely finding the character and grit that propelled it to a near Ivy championship last season.

The Crimson is the second of three consecutive home opponents for the Red after a near upset of then No. 8 Lehigh last weekend. Brown will visit Ithaca next weekend to wrap up the trio of contests.

Harvard is among the league’s elite this year. Ranked second in preseason polls, the team has not disappointed prognosticators, sporting an unblemished 3-0 mark (1-0 Ivy) on the young season.

If recent history is any indicator tomorrow’s game should be mightily contested. The Red has won the last two games — each by a one point margin.

Last year at Harvard, senior quarterback Ricky Rahne engineered a miraculous second half comeback to erase a 28-0 halftime deficit to win the game 29-28. A missed field goal for the Crimson in the final seconds will have Harvard entertaining notions of revenge as it takes the field tomorrow.

Cornell’s chances of victory will rest largely on its ability to improve the run defense, considering that Harvard boasted the leagues most potent run attack last year. Junior Nick Palazzo will be a marked man for the Red. The honorable All-Ivy selection has chalked up 229 yards in his first three games this season.

The Crimson is more permeable than last season, holding opponents to an average of 167 yards/game. But they have been without standout linebacker Dante Balestracci for the past two weeks. He is sidelined with an injury.

Pendergast expressed uncertainty when asked he thought Balestracci’s absence would cause Harvard to revise its game plan.

The Crimson is more permeable than last season, holding opponents to an average of 167 yards/game. But they have been without standout linebacker Dante Balestracci for the past two weeks. He is sidelined with an injury.

Pendergast expressed uncertainty when asked he thought Balestracci’s absence would cause Harvard to revise its game plan.


Archived article by Gary Schueller