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In the 2016 season, Cornell football won its most games since 2012, picking up four victories over the course of the year. After a fiery 3-0 start, the team cooled off, dropping five straight losses before defeating Columbia in a dramatic Empire State Bowl.
With Sept. 16’s opening kickoff at Delaware fast approaching, here’s a look back on last year’s 4-6 season.
Two years ago, it took Cornell football nine weeks to secure its first win. But in 2016, the squad captured the first victory on opening night. After trailing early, quarterback Dalton Banks and running back Chris Walker, then sophomores, played with a veteran’s skillset and helped Cornell take the lead. Then the defense fended off a late Bison rally to capture victory on the road. Banks finished with a pair of rushing touchdowns, while Walker amassed 141 yards on the ground.
The Red proved that opening night win was no fluke by knocking off Yale on Homecoming the following week. Behind more stellar play from Banks and strong stands from the defense, the Red opened up a 24-3 lead after the first half. Continued pressure from all sides of the ball helped Cornell finish off the victory and move to 2-0 on the season. The Red’s defense totaled three interceptions, including a victory-sealing pick by linebacker Jackson Weber ’17, who also notched nine solo tackles on the day.
Despite trailing by 23 in the first half, Cornell stormed all the way back to shock Colgate on the Raiders’ homecoming game. The victory marked the Red’s first road victory over a ranked team since 1950. The Raiders piled on three touchdowns in the first quarter, seemingly putting Cornell in an insurmountable hole, but a safety from Kurt Frimel early in the second quarter ignited the team to its improbable comeback. Behind masterful play from Banks — 454 yards and three touchdowns — and impressive, timely defensive stops, Cornell fought back, eventually trimming the deficit to five by the the fourth quarter. The teams traded drives, neither squad making much headway. But a surgical drive from Banks and the rest of the offense set up the quarterback’s endzone strike to Collin Shaw that capped the comeback and sent the Red to 3-0.
After the team’s three straight wins to start the season, the Red looked to continue the hot start against the most daunting of foes: Harvard. For the first time in 2016, Banks struggled all game, tossing a pick on his first pass of the day. The Crimson’s defense would eventually intercept two more of his passes. A 41-yard touchdown catch from Ben Rogers ’16 — his first of two — tied the game up at seven, but 22 unanswered points from Harvard all but put the game away for the Crimson, as the squad issued the upstart Red its first loss of the season.
Cornell fell flat in its fifth game of the season, a low-pressure, out-of-conference matchup against Sacred Heart. Big plays from the Pioneers helped them take an early 21-7 lead. A 34-yard field goal from Nick Null temporarily stopped the bleeding, but 10 straight points from Sacred Heart again buried the Red in a 21-point hole. Turning two interceptions into touchdowns, Cornell cut the lead to seven, but Banks and the offense could not come up with the one additional critical score and the comeback fell short.
Playing in a torrential downpour, Cornell started sloppily against Brown, giving up a first-half punt return touchdown to the Bears’ do-it-all offensive weapon Alex Jette. The offense could not get much going in the first half and failed to find the endzone until Banks hit Matt Sullivan ’17 for a nine-yard pass in the third quarter. Another Banks touchdown pass in the third quarter tied up the game. Neither squad was able to put points on the board and the game went to overtime. After the teams traded touchdowns in the first extra period, Cornell had no answer to the Bears second score and fell to 3-3 on the season.
In what would be the most embarrassing game of the season, Princeton demolished Cornell at home, sending the once-hopeful Red to its fourth straight loss. The Tigers’ fast-paced offense hung up 35 points on Cornell in the first half, while their defense locked down the Red’s offense that had looked so potent just weeks earlier. Led by John Lovett, Princeton continued the barrage in the second half, scoring three more touchdowns to complete the blowout. Lovett, Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year and Bushnell Cup recipient, finished his career day with four passing touchdowns, two rushing and one receiving.
Hoping to snap back after the demoralizing Princeton loss, Cornell’s defense locked down the Green, holding Dartmouth to just three points in the first three quarters. The offense, sluggish but effective, scored 13 points during that same time period. But it all unraveled in the fourth quarter when two touchdowns from the Green sank the Red. Dartmouth found its success on the ground, rushing for 179 yards, compared to Cornell’s 50.
In the highest scoring contest of the season, Cornell triumphed over Columbia in the Empire State Bowl in the Red’s second to last game of the season. A back-and-forth affair all day, the game saw a total of 11 touchdowns. Banks and Walker returned to their peak form, combining for five of the team’s scores. Walker was particularly brilliant, dancing and muscling past Columbia’s defense. He ended with 178 yards, 71 of which came on a dynamic touchdown run in the fourth quarter that swelled Cornell’s lead to nine. The Red also got an offensive bump from one of the most unlikely sources: punter Chris Fraser ’17. Fraser, a four-time first-team all-Ivy honoree, hauled in a 33-yard pass off a trick play in the third quarter that shifted the game’s momentum in favor of the Red and clinched the team’s fourth straight Empire State Bowl.
With an Ivy title on the line, Penn plowed past Cornell in the final game of the season. The Quakers’ well-balanced attack bullied its way to 527 yards, including 243 yards on the ground. Banks concluded his debut season with 322 yards, but it took him 43 attempts to do so and gave up three picks in the process. The loss concluded the Red’s season, giving the team a final record of 4-6, and a 2-5 record in Ivy League play to tie for sixth in the Ancient Eight.
The pages are still blank for Cornell’s 2017 season, and coming off the team’s winningest season under head coach David Archer’s ’05, the sky’s the limit for the program. Be sure to follow The Sun’s intensive football coverage of the team in its 130th season.