HAMILTON, N.Y. — With no shortage of offensive excitement, it was the Red’s defense that gave Cornell its most impressive win of the season so far over No. 25 Colgate on its Homecoming weekend.
Undoubtedly, sophomore quarterback Dalton Banks’ 454 passing yards and four touchdowns make for an attractive headline, but preventing Colgate from scoring on all of its last six drives — after the team scored on six of its first eight — made all the difference.
“We all just got fired up and we knew that it started with us,” said junior linebacker Kurt Frimel. “Our offense was doing a great job all day and we just knew we had to stop them and give the ball back to our offense and give ourselves a chance to win.”
As the centerpiece of the offense, Banks understands how essential it was to have his defense get him the ball down the stretch.
“They allowed us to get the ball back at the end of the game,” Banks said. “We knew if we got the ball back, we were going to go down and punch it in. Our guys made great plays and we were as happy as can be to finish out on top.”
Though touting an impressive performance at the game’s end, the defense came out especially sluggish in the first half. Colgate got off to a quick three-touchdown lead in its first three drives, but head coach David Archer ’05 said he knows the slow start cannot be attributed solely to the defense.
“To be fair, everyone kind of came out slow,” he said. “Colgate is really good and if you miss a gap, they’re gone. That’s what’s happening. The whole program was a little bit slow and we kept at it and kept chipping and made enough plays to win.”
The team knew that Raiders quarterback Jake Melville was going to be a threat and in the first half alone, the senior threw for 295 yards three touchdowns, all of which were 40-plus-yard strikes. In the second half, however, the Red’s defense held Melville to just 104 passing yards.
What got the team going in the second half did not boil down to either tangible adjustments nor a shift in the lineup. A passionate halftime speech from senior lineman Jake Waltman seems to have gotten the team going, and as Frimel said, the energy going into the second half was much more potent.
“We all just got fired up and we knew that it started with us,” Frimel said. “Our offense was doing a great job all day and we just knew we had to stop them and give the ball back to our offense and give ourselves a chance to win.”
As the game began to wind down, Colgate faced two separate occasions when the team had to risk it all on fourth down. On both occasions, Cornell’s defense corralled the ballcarrier to give the ball back to the offense. These defensive stands gave Banks and his offense the opportunity to win the game.
But it was in opening minutes of the second quarter that represented the defense’s defining moment. After senior punter Chris Fraser pinned Melville’s offense to start on its own four-yard line, Frimel broke through the line on third down to record the team’s first points of the game — and first safety of the season.
“[Kurt] is a dog,” sophomore linebacker Reis Seggebruch said. “We won the game by one and those are two points there, so that’s very important.”
The biggest difference for the defense this season has been its ability to rely on a more consistently and solid offense as backup. Through three games last season, the team had 61 points. This year, that number has risen to 90.
“It is the best feeling in the world knowing that we can go out there and do our job and they’re going to go do theirs,” Frimel said.
The defense, too, has stepped its game up this year, and this has never been more present than with a clutch performance down the line against a high-powered, nationally-ranked offense.
“I love our defense,” said junior receiver James Hubbard, who had 105 yards on the day. “I have all the faith in the world in them. You know that they’re going to get it done. We’ve work way too hard for this. It’s awesome that all of our work is finally paying off.”
A team already entrenched with confidence, Seggebruch added that a win over a nationally-ranked team is going to make next week’s battle with Harvard all the more exciting to look forward to.
“Coming over here beating a top-25 team definitely gives us some confidence,” he said. “Like I said, we expected to win, we had the confidence, but we have to focus on Harvard next week.”
“That was the best win I’ve ever been a part of,” Frimel added.