LEWISBERG, Penn. — The football team’s grit was tested Saturday night as the Red defeated the Bison 21-20. Only ahead by one point after a Bucknell touchdown, senior co-captain Graham Rihn and the defense halted the Bison’s attempts with a PAT block and a defensive stop on the ensuing possession. In the past couple of seasons, head coach Jim Knowles ’87 wouldn’t have predicted his squad to fare so well on the road in that type of pressure situation.
“We had some plays out there that didn’t go our way,” Knowles said. “In the past, we might have gone in the tank, but there was a resolve in the team to stick together”
“In the past, we would fold,” Rihn said. “I would say, ‘Oh man, we are going to lose this game.’ But there is something different this year. … Being apart of this team for four years, the way we fought to win this game is like nothing I have ever seen.”
The game seemed headed towards overtime after a nine-yard pass from Bucknell (2-1) junior quarterback Marcello Trigg to sophomore Shaun Pasternak put the Bison an extra point away from tying the contest with approximately 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Bucknell place kicker Will Carney, who had already missed an extra point wide earlier in the game, didn’t even get a chance to make test his leg. He was denied by the outstretched arms of Rihn, who also totaled four tackles in the game.
The game was by no means over after that play, however.
Senior co-captain Nathan Ford would march the offense down the field during the next possession, spurred on by big runs from senior Luke Siwula and junior Randy Barbour. But with a third down on the Bison’s seven-yard line, the Red couldn’t put the game away.
As Ford dropped back to pass, Bucknell linebacker Sam Nana-Sinkam read the quarterback’s eyes, bit the route and picked off Ford’s toss — one of two interceptions Ford threw. Nana-Sinkam, who had a game-high 18 tackles, returned the ball to the Bucknell 27-yard line, eliminating the Red’s chance of making it a two-possession game with just under five minutes left.
“We try to have the guy that blocks sneak in there for the quick catch,” said junior Jesse Baker, who had two touchdown receptions in the game. “We had been running it all game, but that time they got us.”
The two interceptions, though were two of only five incompletions for Ford, who finished the game 21-for-26 for 207 yards and two touchdowns.
With the Bison looking to stage one last comeback and maintain its unblemished record, the Red forced a three-and-out to put Bucknell’s offense back to the sidelines.
Throughout the course of the game, Trigg routinely found Pasternak in coverage, even though sophomore Emani Fenton usually brought down Pasternak right after the catch. Still, Trigg and Pasternak hooked up for 11 receptions for 117 yards. Despite the combination’s success, they couldn’t connect on the all-important third down as reserve cornerback sophomore Andy Wade broke the pass up.
“We added some man coverage and changed up our zones,” Knowles said. “All of a sudden it became a passing game, so we really had to make our adjustments. … We brought in some of our base coverages that we didn’t have in the game plan, but we used them because it became a passing game.”
A 12-yard dash with under two minutes from Barbour allowed the Red to kneel the ball and run the clock out. The Red controlled the clock throughout because of an efficient day on the ground from both Siwula and Barbour. Barbour tallied 114 yards and a touchdown, while Siwula added 61 yards.
Entering the game, Cornell came prepared for a potent option running attack. Before Saturday’s game, the Bison averaged over 400 yards of offense this year. The defense, led by 12 tackles from senior safety Tim Bax, held the Bison to 265 total yards, including 46 yards at a clip of 1.5 yards per rush.