By JOON LEE
It happened again. The Cornell football team gave up 17 unanswered points to Yale in the fourth quarter on Saturday, allowing the Bulldogs to complete an impressive comeback against the Red. With the loss, Cornell dropped to 0-2 and 0-1 in Ivy play.
The Red appeared dominant in the first three quarters, with the team controlling the board for the majority of the first half. Senior running back Luke Hagy had his fifth straight game with more than 100 rushing yards, finishing the day with 123 yards on the ground a rushing touchdown. The Bulldogs, however, prevented Hagy from doing much of anything in the second half. Junior Robert Somborn had a solid day under center, completing 20 of 30 passes with three touchdowns through the air and one interception.
However, for the second straight week, the Achilles’ heel for the Red came in their special teams’ play. Freshman kicker Zach Mays had one extra point blocked, another go wide of the goal post and a field goal attempt blocked. Junior punt returner Luis Uceta muffed a punt early in the third quarter that set up the Bulldogs on the Cornell 40 yard line and ultimately lead to a field goal.
“That’s an area of our team that needs to step up and play better for us,” said head coach David Archer ‘05. “It’s as simple as that. It’s not any one guy — never just one play that determines the outcome of a game — so it’s not a blame game in that way on one person. It’s all of us collectively as a team and all of us involved in special teams [need] to raise our level of performance and raise our level of expectation and prepare extra hard this week because we simply can’t afford to keep making miscues like that.”
However, the big momentum shifter came at the end of the first half. The Cornell kickoff team allowed Yale kick returner Jamal Locke to return a ball 84 yards to the Red six-yard-line with a little over 40 seconds left in the half after a touchdown pass from Somborn to sophomore wideout Collin Shaw. Following a touchdown pass from Yale quarterback Morgan Roberts to Ross Drwal, the Red went into the locker room with a 26-13 lead at the half.
While it did not feel like a game changer at the time, Archer said the run back and the subsequent touchdown shifted the momentum.
“I had an undying confidence that we were going to win the game,” Archer said. “However, many plays that they were going to make, I just felt like we were going to make one more than they would to win. Certainly not what we wanted and we have to look at the tape to see specifically what happened there, but they were able to crease us on the right side of our kickoff coverage and we have to work on that and get better at it. That turned out to be a critical play because they scored off of it.”
Archer said he will review the kicking situation and would not commit to Mays as the kicker for the Red moving forward.
“We’re going to review the film and talk to the staff because it’s more than just the kicker,” Archer said. “I do know that our special teams need to raise their level of play.”
In the last two weeks, the Red has shown that they can keep up with most teams. Bucknell was picked to finish second in the Patriot League while Yale was picked to finish third in the Ivy League. Last season, the Red lost to Bucknell and Yale by a total score of 71-20. This season, the Red has lost by a total of 52-40.
While the gap has closed between Cornell and its opponents, the Red still needs to take that next step and make the one or two plays that flip a game from a loss to a win. Getting over that hump will be Archer’s biggest task yet.
“We’re going to approach that the same way from where we were in November to where we are now and all of the growth that has happened,” Archer said. “You can’t simulate the fourth quarter of a football game in practice. The more game experience we get and the more time we have to learn the situation, the more you can focus on the smaller details. When the moment gets big, that’s when you focus on the smallest details and executing and doing your job.”