Loss, two wins, loss, win, loss, win, loss. That has been the pattern to the Cornell football team’s 2012 season. On Saturday afternoon at Schoellkopf Field, the Red (4-4, 2-3 Ivy League) failed to keep momentum from a down-to-the-wire win the previous week, as Dartmouth (5-3, 3-2) started fast en route to its fourth straight victory in the series, a 44-28 thumping.
Dartmouth maintained its road swagger despite playing without its starting quarterback and center. The Green had its way on the ground, rushing for 330 total yards on over seven yards per carry to ensure a fifth consecutive win away from Hanover, N.H. Athletic freshman backup quarterback Dalyn Williams shifted around for 96 yards and a dazzling touchdown run, while junior tailback Dominick Pierre carried 26 times for 154 yards and two first-quarter scores.
Meanwhile, the Red buried itself by committing turnovers on the first three offensive possessions, all of which Dartmouth turned into touchdowns. In the 2011 and 2012 matchups, the Green held a combined 9-2 takeaway ratio and a 709-185 rushing yard advantage over the Red.
“We can’t turn the ball over. That’s an obvious, glaring stat — you have to limit the turnover ratio” said Cornell head coach Kent Austin. “That being said, I don’t know how much that was going to matter at the end of the day. Credit to them — they flat out whipped us, period.”
Cornell junior quarterback and offensive co-captain Jeff Mathews threw three interceptions for the second time in three games, though he did complete 27-of-41 passes for 315 yards and three touchdowns.
Mathews became the No. 1 passer in Cornell history with a 39-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Grant Gellatly on fourth-and-19 on an otherwise meaningless drive late in the game. The completion gave Mathews 7,746 career yards, surpassing Ricky Rahne’s ’02 previous school record, and established the final score with 1:13 to play.
Williams, on the other hand, started his first collegiate contest and fared well in place of sophomore Alex Park, who couldn’t practice all week because a sling protected his separated left (non-throwing) shoulder. A rainy and windy 35-degree day didn’t seem to bother the rookie, as Williams hit on 14-of-20 attempts for an efficient 160 passing yards and two touchdowns.
Williams, though, made the biggest plays with his feet. None was more symbolic than a third-and-3 escape and completion that stuck a fork in the Red after the hosts had scored two unanswered touchdowns to trail 35-21.
Cornell defensive linemen flushed Williams out of the pocket and nearly recorded the club’s first sack in two games, but the sneaky signal caller eluded the rush and shot-putted the ball to sophomore wide receiver Ryan McManus, who sprinted 28 yards down to the Cornell 30-yard line. Seven plays later, Dartmouth sophomore kicker Riley Lyons booted a 34-yard field goal in the adverse weather to make it a three-score game, 38-21, with just 5:57 remaining.
“[Williams] makes plays and we couldn’t tackle him,” Austin said. “We got back in the game, we bottled him up, he found a guy, pitched it to him and they convert. He made plays all day long and we couldn’t get them off the field … We’re not very good in space right now. ”
“[Williams] would break contain, make a long run and we’d miss tackles in the open field,” added sophomore linebacker Taylor Betros, who made a handful of nice stops in leading Cornell with 12 tackles, including four for lost yardage. “We just didn’t execute. We came out flat and they took full advantage of it. I didn’t think we were outmatched at all, we just got our butts whooped.”
Three early miscues in as many possessions forced the Red to play catch-up. Freshman running back Silas Nacita fumbled after picking up a first down on the first drive. The Red’s third opening-drive turnover of the year led to Pierre’s first 33 rushing yards of the day and his bruising one-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead.
Then, Green senior safety Garrett Waggoner forced Red senior wide receiver and special teams co-captain Luke Tasker to run his route out of bounds before intercepting Mathews’ loft to Tasker up the left sideline. Williams and Pierre continued to pick up yardage at will, culminating an eight-play drive with the running back’s nine-yard touchdown run with 4:32 to go in the first quarter.
Mathews threw another interception on the ensuing possession when he didn’t put enough zip on a third-down pass, leading to Williams’ first touchdown throw and a 21-0 Green lead early in the second quarter. Dartmouth entered the matchup with only one pick this season but the visitors added two more in the first 15 minutes.
“Playing so bad in the first quarter, we didn’t give ourselves a chance to get back in it,” said Mathews, who tossed 13 interceptions in his first 16 career starts but has added 13 more in his last 10. “You’ve got to make good decisions and on a couple of plays today, I didn’t and it hurt us. We were down 21 points mainly off of our offensive miscues.”
Nonetheless, as Austin indicated, a clean game by the Red may not have been enough to win without an answer for Dartmouth’s relentless ground attack. Cornell ran one more offensive play than the Green before halftime but gained 103 fewer yards — precisely the number Pierre produced in the first two quarters.
After having a first-and-goal at the Dartmouth 2 but coming away empty, the Red did score with 1:14 before intermission on a 16-yard Gellatly touchdown reception, the receiver’s first of three total scores.
However, Williams extended the next drive with a quarterback keeper on third-and-11 that led to his 22-yard touchdown pass in the final seconds to senior wide receiver Michael Reilly, who gained position on Red freshman cornerback Jarrod Watson-Lewis. The seven-play drive and momentous score was ironically aided by Cornell timeouts after first and second down, which each made sense but backfired when Williams broke loose for 14 yards to the Green 38 to prolong the possession.
“That’s another key possession [when] we just couldn’t get them off the field,” Austin said. “[Williams] scrambled and he just made a great play. I thought we had him bottled up, saved our timeouts on the previous drive for that reason — to get another possession — but it just didn’t work out.”
Williams then tacked on a 35-yard ankle-breaking touchdown on a slice and dice run on the first drive of the second half for a 35-7 Green stranglehold.
“We couldn’t get off blocks up front and they’d get a little seam and hit it, whether it was inside or outside,” Betros said. [Williams] would just break tackles or juke someone out. They just kicked the crap out of us.”
One bright spot for the Red was reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Week and running back Luke Hagy, who continued his solid freshman season with 16 rushes for 77 yards. He also caught four passes for 35 yards and a receiving touchdown for the second week in a row.
“We obviously feel like Luke is a talented player, and he’s getting baptism by fire right now, as a bunch of our freshman out there did today,” Austin said. “He’s a great young man, he works hard and he’s got a bright future.”
Senior Kurt Ondash led Cornell in receiving with nine catches for 136 yards, his third 100-yard game of the season. Gellatly added five snags for 78 yards and two touchdowns, plus a two-yard scoring run on an end-around that pulled the Red as close as it would get, 35-21, with 10 minutes flat remaining.
Mathews admitted that Cornell’s inability to seize momentum in 2012 has frustrated the club. The loss crushed the Red’s Ivy title chances, as either Harvard or Penn is guar
anteed to suffer no more than two league losses, but Mathews said the team still has work to do in its final two outings. The Red plays at Columbia on Saturday and finishes the season at home Nov. 17 versus Penn.
“It’s going to be a big challenge for us to keep bouncing back,” Mathews said. “Football is a crazy sport because you have such ups and downs. Last week was a tremendous win for us and we came out today and didn’t play that well. And now we’ve got to make sure that’s not a huge downer. Hopefully next week we go in and play better and have a chance to win the game. And then after that game we’ve got to respond. It’s disappointing to lose, but we’ll bounce back.”
Original Author: Quintin Schwab