With a win under their belts and a swagger in their step, the men of Cornell football are ready to take on Yale on Homecoming Saturday.
“There’s no substitute for it,” said head coach David Archer ‘05 of a post-win atmosphere. “The attitude, the validation of a lot of hard work by a lot of people. It’s just an unbelievable feeling. The difference is night and day. It energizes everybody to keep going and keep working and keep improving.”
“It’s nice because everyone is in a better mood,” said sophomore quarterback Dalton Banks. “It’s fun as a program, everyone’s excited and optimistic about the season.”
In his first collegiate playing experience, Banks was a big reason why Cornell was able to fend off Bucknell and win its opening game for the first time since 2013. The sophomore played like a veteran and accounted for all three of the Red’s touchdowns. The Cornell fanbase will get its first chance to check out the 6-foot-2 Texan at home against the Bulldogs.
“It was a great opportunity,” Banks said of starting against the Bison. “My coach and everyone believe in me. I knew we could go out there and get the job done.”
Banks and other members of the team are confident that the squad can carry the momentum from the thrilling win over Bucknell into Saturday’s game.
“We have the confidence in us because we know what we’ve been doing, all summer, all preseason, all the way back to the end of last season,” said junior safety Nick Gesualdi. “We just want to showcase everything we’ve been working hard for.”
The theme of confidence seems to be omnipresent in the organization coming off the opening day victory.
“[The confidence] really comes from the upperclassmen on the team,” Gesualdi said. “The leaders are very confident. They’ve been running things a little differently than we have in the past and a lot more young guys have really bought in.”
Last year against Yale, the Red built a 19-point first half lead before it all came crumbling apart. The Bulldogs torched Cornell for 26 straight points, capped off by two touchdowns from quarterback Morgan Roberts in the final 1:12 of the game.
Roberts graduated in the spring and his absence is certainly felt by a Yale team slated to finish fourth in the Ivy League. Last week No. 21 Colgate bulldozed the Bulldogs, trampling them, 55-13. The Raiders held Yale to just 12 yards rushing and intercepted the Bulldogs’ quarterbacks four times.
Despite the result, Archer and his team are trying not to underestimate their opponent. Archer praised some of Yale’s “dynamic playmakers,” specifically citing Bo Hines and Michael Siragusa as wide receivers who can inflict damage on offense.
Against Bucknell, first-time starter DJ Woullard had two interceptions on the day. Archer said he will look to Woullard, Gesualdi and the rest of the secondary to again make big plays Saturday. The seconday will have to make up for the loss of junior safety Sean Scullen who, according to multiple sources close to the program, is out for the season with a broken patella.
“We just really have to make sure we’re staying with their guys, making plays on the football, like DJ did,” Archer said. “We got to get pressure on the quarterback, that really helps the coverage game.
A year ago against Yale, the special teams’ poor performance was one of the big reasons Cornell came away with the loss. Missed field goals and extra points as well as long kickoff returns set up the Bulldogs’ 33-26 victory.
Based on last week’s result, however, this year may be different. Special teams was playing at its best against Bucknell, and sophomore kicker Zach Mays was rewarded for his performance, earning Ivy League special teams player of the week. Archer cited the special teams unit as a critical component of a win on Saturday.
“They need to produce the same way they produced against Bucknell,” Archer said. “Critical moments when we needed touchbacks, they were delivered. When we needed to flip the field, we got it, when we needed a long field goal, we got it. They have to bring their A-game.”
After earning redemption last week against Bucknell — a team that similarly mounted an improbable comeback against Cornell in 2015 — the men are ready to prove that they are a better, more poised team than last year.
“Homecoming is always a big game for us because it’s a statement game,” Banks said. “Everyone comes out to this one, like ‘Alright, let’s see what the Big Red are going to do this year.’ We’re hoping to come out and show everyone who we are this year and that we’re here to win and here to do it right.”