A week after its historic win over Harvard, Cornell football couldn’t replicate the magic from last week, dropping a 28-16 contest against Bucknell to fall to 1-4 on the season.
“This loss is on me,” said head coach David Archer ’05. “I am the head coach, and I didn’t have the team ready to play. Whether it’s not responding well from last week’s great victory, clearly, I didn’t get the team ready to play. Too many penalties, too many mistakes. I did a terrible job and we lost the game.”
“We were on such a high after the Harvard win last week,” added junior defensive lineman Cyrus Nolan. “We probably didn’t do what we needed to do this week in practice to get the win [today].”
The Red kept up with the Bison through most of the game but could not come up with the big play to turn the tide. Zero turnovers on defense, just 287 yards of offense — 67 coming in relative garbage time during the final drive — and a poor second half showing killed Cornell’s chances of forming a win streak.
Cornell converted on just three of 13 third downs and struggled to keep drives alive. The defense wore down as the game went on, and ultimately had no answer to Bucknell’s predictable running game.
“We kind of lost the momentum,” Nolan said in regard to Bucknell’s second-half success on the ground. “We just need to be more consistent throughout the game.”
The Cornell offense, held to 101 yards in the first half, was not aided by the cards it was dealt. The Red began its first five offensive drives on the five, 25, 17, one and 24 yard-lines, respectively, with an average drive start on its own 20 for the game.
By comparison, Bucknell’s average drive started on its own 40-yard line.
“They always had better field positioning,” Banks said. “That’s a big factor in football that no one really notices.”
Poor field position, coupled with an injury-riddled backfield, was a recipe for disaster on Saturday.
For the second game in a row, the running game was supposed to be the focus on offense after a 233-yard performance against Harvard. But Cornell had to try and replicate that showing without sophomore Harold Coles, who was out with an ankle injury, and senior Jack Gellatly, who dressed but did not see the field in the first half. He had only two carries for eight yards and a catch to convert on a two-point conversion.
To make matters worse, junior Chris Walker, who leads the team in rushing attempts, went down after a big hit on a 19-yard reception and did not return.
In their place, a different pair of backs got a chance to step in and try and leave its mark on the season. Senior Josh Sweet, who had only eight carries last year and three entering Saturday’s contest, became a featured back against Bucknell, finishing the day with 10 carries and 37 yards.
Freshman SK Howard also saw his first varsity action, filling in nicely when called upon and going for 73 yards on 18 rushes.
“It was a lot for a freshman,” Archer admitted. “But I think he is going to have a bright future here.”
The Bison broke through on their second series of the game, a two-play drive capped off by a 64-yard touchdown from quarterback John Chiarolanzio to Jack Horan, then adding a 19-yard field goal with three minutes to play in the first half after Sweet fumbled deep in Cornell territory.
The Red got the ball back on its own 24, tasked with trying to put points on the board and avoid going into the half scoreless. Facing a 4th and 1 from their own 33, Archer elected to go for it.
Senior quarterback Jake Jatis picked up the crucial yard, and the offense was able to march the rest of the way down the field to set up junior kicker Zach Mays, who converted on a 35-yard field goal.
On the first drive of the second half, the offense marched down the field and scored quickly to knot the game up at 10 thanks to a nine-yard pass from Jatis to sophomore wide receiver Davy Lizana. It was the former’s first passing touchdown since his freshman year and the latter’s first career touchdown.
“He’s a jack-of-all-trades, he does everything for us,” Banks said about his complementary quarterback. “He’s a great athlete, good quarterback and smart with the ball.”
From that point on, Cornell was left searching for the big play that never came. Besides a kneel to end the game, the Bison scored on each of its remaining drives but one, prioritizing the run game to kill the clock and dismantling Cornell’s rush defense in the process.
Cornell sophomore punter Nickolas Null punted four more times, including one that got blocked, to eradicate any chance of a comeback. Banks orchestrated a 12-play, 67-yard drive capped off by a touchdown and two-point conversion to make it an eight-point game.
But the touchdown was too little too late, as the prior Bucknell drive took over six minutes off the clock. A failed onside kick and kneel later, and the Bison had sealed the victory.
With the loss, Cornell finishes its out-of-conference slate 0-3 and the first half of the season 1-4. But despite the disappointment today, the team has five Ivy League games to play and believes the Ivy title is still well within reach given its 1-1 in-conference record.
“Although it sucks to lose, we’ve got a greater mission ahead of us,” Banks said.