The Cornell football team ran out of tricks just when it needed them most. After battling back from a 14-point deficit and confusing Princeton with an onsides kick and fake punt, the Red couldn’t find a way to prevent Derek Javarone from kicking a 35-yard field goal in overtime to give the Tigers a 20-17 victory.
“We had not played well on the road, and we were going to do everything we possibly [could] to give our guys a chance to get a victory,” said Cornell head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “I thought it was a well-coached game, I thought it was a well-played game. Princeton is just three points better than us.”
Senior quarterback Ryan Kuhn led the Red as it fought its way back into the game, going 12-of-28 for 152 yards passing and one touchdown and rushing for another 75 yards. Senior wide receiver Brian Romney, who became the 12th Cornell receiver to earn 1,000 receiving yards in the first quarter on Saturday, caught six passes for 62 yards, while sophomore running back Luke Siwula rushed for 71 yards and was on the receiving end of three Kuhn passes for 39 yards. Senior kicker A.J. Weitsman accounted for the rest of the Red’s scoring, connecting on three field goals, including a 46-yarder to open Cornell’s scoring.
The Tigers earned 308 yards of total offense, including 118 yards rushing. Quarterback Jeff Terrell was 13-of-27, passing for 190 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Jon Dekker caught five passes for 71 yards and a touchdown, while tailback Rob Toresco ran for 42 yards and a touchdown and Cleo Kirkland put up 32 yards to lead the Tigers’ rushing attack. Abi Fadeyi had a game-high 14 tackles to lead the Princeton defense, including three tackles for a loss and two sacks, and Justin Stull added 13 tackles.
“Clearly, I’m very proud of the team’s effort. As it has been all year, we came from behind … the kids showed great resiliency,” said Princeton head coach Roger Hughes. “We’re happy but not satisfied.”
The Tigers put points on the board with less than six minutes left in the first quarter, with Toresco rushing for seven yards, Terrell passing for 10 and rushing for eight, and Kirkland rushing for three yards to put Princeton on Cornell’s 11-yard line. Terrell then connected on an 11-yard pass to Dekker, who broke through two Red defenders to reach the end zone. Javarone connected on the extra point to put the Tigers ahead, 7-0.
Princeton opened the second quarter with another touchdown drive, highlighted by a 39-yard pass from Terrell to Fields to move the Tigers to the Red’s 3-yard line. The Tigers had their second fumble of the game when Terrell dropped the ball on the following play, but Paul Lyons recovered the ball on the 1-yard line. This set up Toresco’s touchdown, as he ran the last yard to the end zone at 12:37 for the Tigers’ second score. Javarone split the uprights once again to push Princeton’s lead to 14-0.
Later in the second quarter, Cornell put points on the board on a drive that started with a 3-yard run and a 15-yard reception by Siwula. After being stuffed on the Tigers’ 28, Weitsman connected on his first field goal to make the score 14-3.
It was on the following kickoff that Knowles and the Red pulled off their first trick of the day. As Weitsman ran up to make the kick, he pretended to stumble and fell to the ground.
Instead, sophomore place kicker Jay Harding gave the ball a soft kick, ran forward 10 yards and waited as the ball bounced into his open arms. Knowles said this play, the first of several trick plays tried by the Cornell offense, was designed to give the Red a mental advantage over the home team.
“I just felt like with the flow of the game and our defense was playing well enough that we could take some risks,” he said.
On this drive, Weitsman connected from 39 yards and cut the Princeton lead to eight.
The Tigers had the final possession of the half, and Javarone came out for a field goal attempt after the Tigers marched into the Red’s zone. The veteran missed for the first time in 18 attempts this year, kicking the 25-yard attempt wide right to leave the score at 14-6 heading into halftime.
Although senior linebacker Patrick Potts forced a fumble by Toresco and senior cornerback Jason Cloyd recovered the ball for Cornell during the start of the third quarter, the Red quickly found itself in a fourth-and-four situation. Freshman punter Nick Maxwell took the snap for the Red and Cornell caught Princeton off-guard once again, as the former high school quarterback threw a 15-yard pass to senior tight end Troy Follmar for a first down. Kuhn advanced the Red on a flea-flicker to bring the Red within field goal range, and Princeton gave up a third down on a pass interference call.
Siwula rushed 11 yards to put Cornell two yards out of the end zone, but the Red hurt itself with two false starts and a delay of game penalty, falling back to the 12-yard line to end the third quarter. Kuhn opened the fourth quarter with a 10-yard run, setting up another 25-yard field goal by Weitsman to make the score 14-9.
“It’s a very tight game and we busted a huge opportunity there to put the ball in the end zone when we were down there with a couple offside penalties, and we just got a little rattled,” Knowles said. “We’re not there yet, we’ve got to keep working.”
The Red held Princeton to just two yards on the next possession, forcing the Tigers to punt once more and giving Cornell the ball on its own 30-yard line. Kuhn led his team down the field and the drive culminated in a 6-yard Siwula touchdown reception. The Red earned a two point conversion, giving Cornell its first lead of the game, 17-14.
The Tigers converted on three consecutive third downs on their next possession, advancing from their own 22 to the Red’s 15-yard line. From there, Javarone connected on his first field goal of the day, a 32-yarder to tie the game, 17-17, with 2:18 left in regulation.
“We just kept trying to switch it up and it was just one of those times where you just couldn’t make a play,” Knowles said. “They were making them, and we weren’t. That’s why they came back and tied and eventually won the game, because we couldn’t get off the field on third downs.”
On its last chance to pull out the win in regulation, the Red converted on a third-down with a 3-yard run from Siwula, then got a first down when Kuhn connected with Romney for a 10-yard pass. The pair connected again on a 7-yard pass for another third-down conversion. With a third-and-5, Kuhn scrambled out of the pocket and threw the ball a few yards into the ground. But, Kuhn was called for intentional grounding and the Red was pushed back 10 yards and out of field goal range – forcing the Red to punt and the teams into overtime.
Cornell opened the overtime on the Tigers’ 25-yard line with a 2-yard run from Siwula and a 5-yard pass from Kuhn to Romney. However, Kuhn’s next pass attempt was intercepted by Tim Strickland to end Cornell’s last chance to score.
“We were just in man coverage across the board, and they ran a little out route and also, earlier in the first half, they had run a similar route and I thought on this third down, the same thing might be coming,” Strickland said. “It was a similar route and I was just able to jump on it.”
Princeton started its overtime possession with three runs of 3 yards or less before calling in Javarone. Although Knowles called a timeout in an attempt to ice the kicker, Javarone converted the 35-yard attempt for his 42nd career field goal, a league record, to give Princeton the win.
Archived article by Olivia Dwyer
Sun Assistant Sports Editor