If not for some late game heroics on Saturday, the ride home from New Hampshire could have felt a lot longer than five hours.
With less than 30 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, the Cornell sprint football quarterback carried, not threw, the ball across the goal line to give his team the lead and the eventual win. And thus, the Red rode back to Ithaca as the victors.
With Saturday’s 19-14 win over Franklin Pierce (2-3), the Red is 3-1 for the first time since 2012. And a driving force behind this team’s success has been the man at the center of it all, junior quarterback Connor Ostrander.
One can argue Cornell’s schedule is front-loaded with easy opponents. Others can argue it is just luck. Nevertheless, Ostrander has done his job as quarterback, and then some.
Naturally, Ostrander has the team’s most passing yards as the Red’s starting gunslinger. But on top of that, the Massachusetts native leads the squad with 226 rushing yards.
“A lot of the rushing success can be attributed to the work of the offensive line,” he said. “They’ve done a great job throughout the entire season creating running lanes, and the coaching staff has also been able to increase the intensity at practice to prepare us each week.”
This was not the case last year. In his limited playing time in 2016 (including just one start), Ostrander averaged 0.8 yards per carry versus a much improved 3.6 this season.
The junior’s running prowess showed through Saturday afternoon when he rushed for 120 yards — numbers a running back strives to put up. Ostrander ended the day with more rushing yards than passing yards.
“Franklin Pierce really took away they pass,” said head coach Bob Gneo. “Our coaches did a great job adjusting the game plan, and a lot of it called for power runs by [Ostrander] with a lead back, and that’s where he got most of his yards.”
Situations like these are where Ostrander makes a difference. When the going gets tough — either during a play or over the course of a game — he finds a way to move along.
“[He has the] ability to escape bad situations and make situations into good situations,” Gneo added. “And [he has the] ability to shake off a bad play. The philosophy of the team is ‘one play at a time and move onto the next one.’ He’s done a really good job of that.”
This year has not been like Ostrander’s first two on East Hill. With the departure of all-CSFL second team quarterback Rob Pannullo ’16 over the offseason, Gneo and his staff had a hole to fill. Yet Ostrander, the only returning candidate, was not guaranteed the job.
“[Ostrander] was here and he knew our offense, so he had a leg up on [freshman] Brooks Panhans,” Gneo said. “Everyday [Ostrander has] gotten better. He got to play in the last game of the year and start because Pannullo was hurt, so that really helped his confidence, and that carried over into this year.”
Cornell’s starting quarterback credits much of his success to his predecessor.
“Rob [Pannullo] did a great job mentoring me the past two years to help my preparation to step into the QB role,” Ostrander said.
With Pannullo no longer under center, it is now Ostrander’s time to shine. Only three games remain, and it is up to the quarterback and his team whether or not the Red reaches the postseason.
“We still have the same goal we had from the beginning of the season, and that’s to win a championship,” Ostrander said. “We still control our own destiny and we just need to take it one week at a time and keep improving.”
Next up for Cornell are sprint football powerhouses Navy and Army. Despite struggling against Penn in the team’s only loss, Ostrander still has the chance to turn heads with a win against either of the two academies — a tall order, nonetheless.
These are teams against whom Cornell cannot afford to turn the ball over. In last season’s finale, Ostrander threw three interceptions, the same amount he’s thrown in all of 2017.
“The [difference] is the turnovers,” Gneo said. “He’s been been able to keep the turnovers down And he keeps his poise. In a bad situation — a pressure situation — he’s always in control. He’s always cool under the gun.”
Ostrander and the Red travel to Annapolis, Maryland to take on Navy this weekend. The Midshipmen are 4-1 on the season.