After starting off the season with two demoralizing defeats – the first, a 13-6 nail biter against Penn and the second, a 41-0 humiliation at the hands of Navy, the Red sprint football team has managed to put together an impressive string of games, winning two of its last three.
The Red knocked off VMI, 39-12, and Princeton, 31-13, but in-between lost 7-0 to Navy in a game that saw neither side score an offensive touchdown and was possibly Cornell’s best performance of the season.
It is the hope of the Red players and coaches that these three games will become the foundation of a successful future.
According to head coach Terry Cullen, one of the squad’s main goals for this season has been to improve every game. Since the 41-0 loss to Navy, the Red has achieved what it set out to do at the start of the year.
Particular improvement has been seen on the defensive side of the ball, where the Red has become more than the sum of its parts. While there is no stand-out defensive player who can steal the game at any moment, the Red defense works as a unit and gets big plays from a variety of different players when it needs them. In other words, the defense has come through in the clutch, and has kept the Red in games that could have spiraled out of control.
That was particularly true last Friday against Princeton, when, clinging to a 10-6 lead, the Red was able to hold the Tigers scoreless after a botched punt attempt gave Princeton the ball at the Red 14-yard line.
After a sack by junior Derek Johnson on first down, the Tigers were never able to regain their composure, and had to settle for a field-goal attempt that sailed wide. Princeton never again threatened the Red, and the game was all but over.
“I think we’ve recognized who we are as a team, and we are playing to our strengths. As a result, we’ve played much better overall,” said Cullen after the Princeton game.
While the match-up against Princeton may have been the Red’s most impressive win of the season, it may not have been the squad’s best game. The 7-0 loss to Navy, the defending league champions, was viewed by Cullen as a more impressive showing, as the Red was able to hold the powerful Midshipmen offense in check for the whole game.
This was a major step in the right direction for a defensive unit that allowed 457 yards of total offense during the two squads’ last meeting. The 41-0 blowout was nothing but a distant memory for both sides, as their offenses sputtered and the game was controlled on the defensive side of the ball. The Red also played nearly mistake-free, getting called for just two penalties the entire game, compared to 11 for Navy.
“Our game against Navy was our best game of season, no doubt,” Cullen said. “What we tried to do since the second half of the first Navy game was to structure our offense to be conservative, and to capitalize on other teams’ mistakes. So far, that’s worked pretty well.”
These signs of progress are exactly what the Red has been looking for throughout the season. Cullen’s strategy has been to shoot for gradual improvement in each game instead of attempting to grow by leaps and bounds at a time. If the Red is able to continue developing at this pace, Cullen believes that his squad can win out the rest of the season with games against Penn and Army remaining.
“The key to beating both teams is to continue doing what we are doing,” he said. “We’ve been playing very well, both on defense and on special teams, and we need to continue to do that. On offense, we are not turning the ball over, and we are maintaining ball control, which is exactly what we are trying to do.”
Archived article by Jacob Lieberman
Sun Staff Writer