It seemed that there was little doubt in the mind of senior defensive back Phil Rigueur when the ball was snapped. Columbia (3-5, 3-3 Ivy) was facing a third and eighth situation from its own 33-yard line with just under 3:00 remaining in the final quarter of Saturday’s contest and Rigueur — the veteran staple of the defense knew that failure was not an option. Rushing in he leveled a sack of Lion’s quarterback Jeff McCall, forcing the visitors to punt.
It seemed like deja vu for the Red who would get the ball back, trailing by a touchdown with the clock fast approaching the two-minute mark. So many times last season Cornell (2-6, 2-4 Ivy) had engineered logic-defying comeback drives in the waning moments of games, so it was only natural that as senior quarterback Ricky Rahne fastened his chin strap and got his final encouragements from the coaching staff that an air of confidence would prevail among the Schoellkopf Faithful.
But this time though, there would be no miraculous late game heroics. The ensuing drive started inauspiciously enough for the Red as Rahne was forced to scramble for a short two-yard gain. Then for a fleeting moment it seemed as if the vintage Rahne had reemerged, as he completed a trifecta of passes to give the Red a glimmer of hope. A pass interference call added to Cornell’s good fortunes but it all ended there.
On the next play, Rahne scanned downfield, but unsatisfied with what he saw he kept the ball and, as he has done so well so many times this season, he rushed across the middle.
But then as he reached the Columbia 40-yard line, he ran into traffic. There was a collective gasp from the 5,282 on hand when they saw the ball slip from Rahne’s grasp. When the ensuing tussle cleared, Columbia linebacker Sloane Joseph emerged with the football.
“Once I was on it, I was just trying to hold on to it and make sure no one else got on it,” Joseph remarked.
Rahne’s fumble and Joseph’s recovery quelled Red’s comeback and gave Columbia a 35-18 win.
The Red enjoyed its finest start of the season to begin the game. Midway through the first quarter, defensive lineman Kevin Rooney, off a brilliant read, stepped in front of a McCall pass and intercepted it. With an open path before him, he ran 22 yards for a touchdown. It was the first time Cornell had scored first all season and the play marked the first time a Red player had run an interception back for a touchdown since 1993.
“Our defensive line and linebackers had great pressure going and I was just in the right place at the right time,” Rooney explained.
The defense came up strong against a potent Columbia rushing attack, thwarting senior tailback Jonathan Reese for a large part of the game, forcing McCall to look to the air. Wideout Joel Cockburn would make the Red pay though. With :47 seconds in the first quarter Cockburn ran a well-executed slant and reigned in a 42-yard touchdown pass to even the score.
Columbia then used a time-consuming, gritty 12-play, 83-yard drive to take its first lead of the game. Facing a fourth and three at the Cornell 39, the Lions called on Travis Chmelka on a reverse play that brought the visitors to the Cornell four-yard line. Quarterback Stephen Hunsberger — who Columbia uses nearly solely for run plays — scored a play later on a four-yard quarterback sneak with 7:39 to play in the half. However, inside linebacker freshman Joel Sussman blocked the point after try to leave the score at 13-7.
On the strength of a 170-yard effort from senior tailback Evan Simmons, the Red’s running game issued its best effort of the season, finishing with 280 yards on the ground. Cornell was able to find success using junior fullback Nathan Archer as a second running option.
An 18-yard run by Archer began the drive — consisting exclusively of rush plays — that enabled Cornell to regain the advantage close to halftime. A one-yard rush by Simmons tied the game and senior placekicker Pete Iverson gave the Red a one point lead with the point after try.
The Cornell passing game — which finished with 165 yards — seemed sluggish in the opening half, but gained life in the final minute as the Red sought to execute a one-minute drill. Cornell was able to bring the ball all the way to the Columbia nine-yard line but Iverson booted a 26 yard field goal try wide right as time expired.
“I told Pete [Iverson] we were going to move the ball downfield [in the second half] and we were going to give him another opportunity,” Pendergast said.
Just under two minutes into the second half, Simmons broke out on a dazzling 69-yard touchdown rush that saw him evade several Columbia tackles largely due to a nifty block by Archer.
“I think Evan Simmons proved his value and his worth to this team today,” Pendergast said.
Simmons attributed his recent success to his supporting cast: “The guys in front of me have been making my job a lot easier,” he said.
But minutes later with 10:18 remaining in the quarter, McCall hit Doug Peck for a 46-yard score. The Lions were able to convert on the two-point conversion. The score remained even at 21-21 at the end of the third quarter.
Reese who had remained relatively quiet in the opening half, burned the Red in the fourth quarter, accounting for both of Columbia’s touchdowns — the first coming within the opening 90 seconds and the second at the midway point. After the second score, Rahne engineered an impressive three minute long, nine-play drive. An eyebrow raising touchdown reception by sophomore Chad Nice made capped it off, bringing the score to 35-28, but that is the closest the Red would come.
Asked about the failed last drive for Cornell, Tellier commented: “Many other times, [Rahne] has taken his team down the field. Today we got a fumble. Today was our day.”
Archived article by Gary Schueller