Strike up the Big Red marching band, hug your neighbor and sway to the alma mater, the football team is back in town and entering the thick of the Ivy League schedule looking stronger than it has all year. The next test for the Red: the feisty Tigers from New Jersey.
Princeton (4-2, 2-1 Ivy) will head onto Schoellkopf Field tomorrow looking for its first win in Ithaca since 1992. The Red (2-4, 1-2), coming off a gritty win at Brown last weekend, will also be looking to do something it hasn’t done this season: win for two straight weekends. The game — along with the league championship hopes of both teams — begins at 1 p.m.
Last weekend, Cornell was able to steal a sloppy game away from a Brown team that has found a way to lose all year long. Regardless of the fashion of victory, head coach Tim Pendergast’s team will be heavily relying on the momentum of last week’s triumph heading into tomorrow’s game.
“It wasn’t a pretty win but the best thing about it was we proved to ourselves that we can find a way to win,” said fullback senior co-captain Nate Archer. “That’s something good teams do.”
Unfortunately for the Red, the Tigers — unlike Brown — have consistently found ways to be on the other end of the scoresheet this season. Winning their four games by a total of three touchdowns, the Tigers have counted on big plays for emotional turnarounds in the second half. The Tigers consequently boast the longest reception, rush, and punt return in Ivy League play this year.
The trio of quarterback David Splithoff, running back Cameron Atkinson, and wide receiver Chisom Opara, is one of the best in a talent laden conference.
“It’s a very dangerous advantage when you have three quality guys at the most important positions in this league,” said Pendergast, “it makes it very hard to defend.”
Defend is one thing Pendergast’s team finally proved it could do last week in Providence, holding the Bears scoreless in the final three quarters of regulation and two overtime periods. However, Brown’s one-man show of receiver Chas Gessner provided a much less intimidating challenge than the multifaceted Tiger offense.
“The bottom line was that we were all on the same page and that gave us a lot of confidence,” said senior linebacker co-captain Nate Spitler. “Of course, we’ll have to do much of the same to stop this team.”
Splithoff is a consistent presence behind the center and leads the league in pass efficiency with an impressive 146.3 rating. A bit of uncertainty surrounds the playcaller this week, however, as he exited last weekend’s loss to Harvard late in the second half with an injury. He is slated as likely for tomorrow’s contest. Princeton’s ability to move the ball will be further helped by a dual pursuit of history from two thirds of the trio in tomorrow’s game. Atkinson is just one yard away from joining the 2000-yard career rushing mark, while Opara will need just 38 receiving yards to also hit the career millennial total.
Cornell’s star to this point in the season and the current Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week will also be looking to make some history of his own tomorrow. Senior receiver Keith Ferguson needs 68 receiving yards to become the all-time leader in the category at Cornell.
“It’s nice to get all these records,” said Ferguson of his accomplishments, adding, “I don’t want to pull a Barry Bonds, though, and achieve personal things while losing Game 7 or something.”
On defense, the Tigers boast a strong rushing attack while remaining somewhat vulnerable in the secondary. The rush defense is second in the Ivies, allowing just 128 yards per game on the ground. The pass defense, however, has allowed teams to beat them deep — averaging 220 yards against them in the air per game.
“We’re not going to change much on offense,” said Spitler of the gameplan, “they don’t have huge holes on defense so we’ll take what we can get.”
After tomorrow, the Red will have just three more weekends to compete for an elusive Ivy League crown. A win against Princeton would set the tone for the remainder of a tough schedule. The Tigers will be in a similar situation, as a win tomorrow could set up a matchup with Ivy-unbeaten Penn next Saturday. The game would have huge championship implications. Of course, neither team would benefit from a lack of focus.
“Our goal is to win each Saturday, that’s our championship game,” concluded Pendergast. “We have to take this home stretch one game at a time.”
Archived article by Scott Jones