When the sprint football team takes the field against Army tonight at Shea Stadium in West Point, N.Y., the Red will look to do what the Indianapolis Colts could not — finish the season with a perfect record.
[img_assist|nid=19259|title=Evasive maneuvers|desc=Junior Glenn Palmer (18) scrambles during a 21-7 victory over Penn last week on Schoellkopf Field, a game in which he had 82 rushing yards on 12 carries. (Alex Teney / Sun Staff)|link=popup|align=left|width=100|height=75]
Cornell (5-0, 3-0 CFSL) will play for the third undefeated season — and first since 1982 — and sixth Collegiate Sprint Football League championship in program history tonight when it faces the Black Knights (3-1, 2-0).
After dominating its schedule en route to defeating Navy once and Penn and Princeton twice each, head coach Terry Cullen’s squad is looking to avenge a 27-0 loss at the hands of the Black Knights to close the 2005 season. However, this 2006 team has a new attitude and approach, as the Red leads the league with a smothering defense that allows just 193 total yards per game. The defense will be tested early and often against the league’s best offense, with the Black Knights notching an average of 381 yards per game.
“Army plays a tough brand of football,” Cullen said. “Our defense has been our strength all year and if we continue to execute the way we have, and run the ball effectively, we should be tough to stop.”
Army suffered its only defeat against Navy, dropping a 31-21 decision to the Midshipmen in the season-opening Pride Bowl. The Black Knights have won three straight since, with their most recent win coming against Penn on Oct. 13 by a score of 16-7. Five Army players have earned CFSL Player of the Week honors this season, bringing in a total of three Offensive Player of the Week awards as well as two Special Teams Player of the Week honors and a Defensive Player of the Week award.
The Red’s patented rushing attack will be led by one of the team’s captains and constants over the past three years, senior tailback Michael Fullowan. The Red offense as a whole has a total of 594 rushing yards on 203 attempts, with Fullowan leading the way with 192 total yards for the season. Fullowan has averaged 2.6 yards per carry on a hefty workload of 74 carries. However, Cornell showed its depth at the position when Penn paid too much attention to Fullowan, and backup junior Glenn Palmer took advantage with 85 yards on the ground on 12 carries.
“They doubled Fullowan this past week,” said Cullen. “It gave us a nice opportunity to see what Palmer was about and he showed us he can play. [Sophomore quarterback Zak] Dentes has done a great job running the ball for us and leading on the field.”
A big question mark for the Red entering this special season was the uncertainty of the quarterback play. Junior Brain Kennedy was the incumbent starter but had a frustrating shoulder injury that required surgery and did not allow him to throw at all until a few weeks ago. Dentes beat out fellow sophomore Brandon Stoller to win the starting job and has never looked back. One of his strengths has been his ability to move around and out of the pocket effectively.
“Dentes has done a real nice job for us,” said Cullen. “What he really lacked in the beginning was experience but our veteran team rallied around him and the results so far have been very positive.”
Speaking of a veteran presence, the strength of this championship-hopeful team has been the senior leadership and dedication. The team has 23 seniors, 12 of whom are on the best defensive unit statistically in the league.
Standouts over the past few years and especially leading the way in 2006 include linebacker and punter Jason Zittel (35.0 yards per punt, 21.5 total tackles, 1.5 sacks and one forced fumble), defensive end Matt Collin (11 total tackles, 7 sacks, 2 pass deflections, one fumble recovery and one blocked kick) and linebacker John Samuel (19.0 total tackles, 3 interceptions, and 4 pass breakups).
“Our whole team has been focused all year, led by our seniors,” said Cullen. “Defending Army’s strong offense will be a tough assignment, since they play smash mouth football. But since day one, we’ve been saying that all we want to do is go out and play football, that’s what we do. We have one more game to do that, and do something special.”