This week, the Cornell football team finds itself in a position that it has not found itself in since 2013: preparing for a game coming off of a victory. As the Red heads down to the University of Pennsylvania for the season finale, head coach David Archer ’05 faces a tall task in trying to spoil the Quakers’ chances at the Ivy League title.
For seniors such as running back Luke Hagy and linebacker JJ Fives, Saturday’s matchup in Philadelphia presents the last opportunity for them to play spoiler in a Cornell (1-8, 1-5 Ivy League) uniform.
“It’s unbelievable,” Fives said. “It feels like I just stepped up here my summer going into my freshman year. It’s unbelievable the friends that I’ve made and the people I’ve met playing here. Like I’ve said before, it’s really surreal because every year we send the seniors out the last day of practice and now that it’s here for me — it’s really unbelievable.”
Penn (6-3, 5-1 Ivy League) has been one of the biggest surprises in the Ivy League this year. After Al Bagnoli’s surprise departure from Penn to lead Columbia’s football program, head coach Ray Priore has lead the Quakers to the top of the conference. Under Priore, Penn has the second highest-scoring offense in the Ivy League, trailing just Harvard.
“They’ve got some guys that can really make things happen and move the dial for them and they’re playing at a high level,” Archer said. “When you have players that can take over games of that magnitude, you get the result that they have.”
Sophomore wide receiver Justin Watson stands out in the Penn offense. Watson, a candidate for the Ivy League player of the year, leads the conference in yards per game, total receiving yards, touchdown receptions, falls second in receptions and fourth in yards per reception. Watson has clicked with quarterback Alex Torgerson, who leads the Ivy League in completion percentage and places second in touchdown passes.
“[Watson] had a good rookie campaign as a freshman and now as a sophomore, he’s blown up and he can really take over a game,” Archer said. “Alex Torgerson, the quarterback, has really found his groove and they’ve found their niche together, playing a little bit more of an uptempo than what they’re used to. I [also] think they have an outstanding player on defense in Tyler Drake.”
In order to combat the Quakers’ explosive offensive attack, the Red will need Hagy to carry the offense. That prospect, however, is in question after the running back experienced concussion symptoms for the second time this season after a hit to the head in the Red’s game against Columbia. Archer said Hagy is “day-to-day” and that the team will follow concussion protocol to determine his role against Penn.
After the team’s win against the Lions, the Red is hoping to build off of the momentum of the squad’s first victorious outcome of the season.
“It’s not so much of [avoiding a letdown performance], rather keeping the momentum going,” Archer said. “That felt so good, and let’s do it again. We’ve got a very good team in Penn and it’s their home field and their senior day for a share of the Ivy League or maybe by themselves. They’re in the race. We’ve got to focus on them, but the wind is in your sail so much more when you’re coming off the win.”
Archer said his team needs to keep play the “we haven’t played our best yet” card in order to step up their game against Penn.
“We certainly put together an amazing defensive performance, but there were some things we wanted to clean up there, and offensively, we want to produce more than three points, so there are things we want to do there,” Archer said. “It’s a great opponent and a great venue and by record, one of the best teams in the league so we want to go and show them what we can do.”
For Hagy, the last game at Penn will hold even more value.
“I’m glad I get to finish my career off at Penn,” Hagy said. “My grandpa played football at Penn and he passed away in the early 2000’s. It’s pretty cool to finish off my career where he finished off his career too. It will be an awesome experience. It will probably be pretty emotional, but I’m really excited for the opportunity.”