The Red was unable to bounce back from a 21-0 deficit in the first half on Saturday afternoon against Dartmouth. After turning the ball over three times in the first 15 minutes, the Red found itself in a deep hole, and the consistently efficient offense was unable to dig itself out, eventually falling 44-28.
The offensive woes began early for the Red (4-4, 2-3 Ivy League), with a fumble by freshman running back Silas Nacita that was recovered by the Green (5-3, 3-2) only two minutes into the game. Dartmouth then worked its way downfield to Cornell’s one-yard line, where junior running back Dominick Pierre converted to put the Green up 7-0.
“The fumble was a tough way to start off the game,” said senior offensive lineman JC Tretter. “Even when we went down 21-0, we still thought we could bounce back because of our explosive offense, but yesterday we just couldn’t do it. … It’s always tough to crawl back from a hole like that.”
The next two offensive sets by the Red ended in interceptions thrown by junior quarterback Jeff Mathews. Both times, the Green was able to convert for touchdowns.
While uncharacteristically throwing three interceptions, Mathews still did connect with junior wide receiver Grant Gellatly for two touchdowns and freshman running back Luke Hagy for one. His 315 passing yards on the game put him at 7,746 yards in his career, making him Cornell’s career passing leader. However, according to Tretter, this feat did not mean nearly as much to Mathews as a victory would have.
“Knowing Jeff, that record doesn’t matter so much,” he said. “Winning is more important to everyone on this team than any record anyone could set.”
The second quarter did not start off any better for the Red, as the Green took the ball 68 yards up the field for an eventual short touchdown pass, making the score 21-0.
It looked like the Red offense might have gotten back on track, though, after slowly working its way to Dartmouth’s two-yard line. However, the 16-play drive that lasted just under eight minutes came up short as Mathews could not find any of his receivers open in the end zone, throwing three incomplete passes and eventually turning the ball over on downs.
“We’ve definitely struggled in the red zone this year,” Tretter said. “It’s tough with a team that passes so much, the coverage tightens up there and it takes a lot of the passing game away. Knowing the type of team we are, they drop so many guys back.”
After forcing Dartmouth to punt the ball on the next play, the Red began its first successful offensive set with a 12-yard pass to senior wide receiver Kurt Ondash for a first down. Hagy then ran for six yards, bringing the ball to Dartmouth’s sixteen, and Mathews connected with Gellatly for the squad’s first points of the day. A comeback was still a possibility for the Red, down 21-7 with just over a minute left in the half. But the Green all but crushed those hopes with a timely 7-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a touchdown pass to Michael Reilly with one second left on the clock, sending the Red into the locker room trailing by 21.
The start of the second half was more of the same for the Red, with the Green taking just under four minutes to score another touchdown and go up 35-7.
The Red fought back hard, scoring two straight touchdowns on a reception by Hagy and a two-yard run into the endzone by Gellatly. However, the Green answered with a field goal on the ensuing drive, and the Red was unable to keep the ball in its hands, as Mathews threw his third interception of the day. The Green once again converted on his mistake, this time on a 51-yard touchdown run by Greg Patton.
The Red would score one more time, but it was not enough to overcome the early deficit.
After a disappointing loss, Tretter spoke about how the team needs to improve for its final two games of the season.
“Speaking from an offensive line perspective, we have to increase protection. We’ve made steps forward and then sometimes we’ve taken steps back,” he said. “But we can’t start pressing, we just need to buckle down and find the things we need to get better on. … And a lot of that is self-reflection, which is something we all need to do individually.”
The Red will take on Columbia next weekend in the Empire State Bowl and the final road game of the season. According to Tretter, the team will have to push this loss out of its mind in order to come better prepared for the Lions.
“A great opportunity slipped through our hands [on Saturday], but we have two more games to refocus and forget about Dartmouth because we can’t change anything now,” he said.
Original Author: Scott Chiusano