This post has been updated.
With emotions and stakes at all-time highs, Cornell football collapsed against Columbia, 18-8, on Senior Day. Needing a win over the Lions to stay alive in the team’s surprising hunt for an Ivy League title, the Red lost to Columbia for the first time in the tenure of head coach David Archer ’05, dashing the team’s hopes for an Ivy championship.
“I feel terrible for the senior class especially, the other guys will get another shot, but [the seniors] don’t,” Archer said. “Guys like [senior linebacker] Kurt Frimel, who have overcome adversity after adversity after adversity and keep trudging this thing forward.”
On Saturday afternoon, the Red’s offense, which totaled 257 yards, converted just four of 13 third downs and couldn’t sustain drives. In the only Cornell-Columbia matchup in recent memory with title implications, Cornell entered Columbia’s half of the field just three times all game. With the exception of the Red’s touchdown when the game was already out of reach, Cornell reached the Lions’ red zone just once.
“Any time it’s Senior Day when you stand out there and watch them run on,” Archer said, “and you can picture the 18-year-old kid you recruited and now they’re a 22-year-old man who has been through so much and has done so much for your program, for their last home game, you want to end on a positive with a win. That part really stings.”
Senior running back Josh Sweet’s fourth-quarter scamper ended Columbia’s shutout bid and helped Cornell avoid its first back-to-back shutouts since 1959 after last week’s blanking at the hands of Dartmouth.
“They started to shut the run down, and we couldn’t make the plays we needed to the last two games,” said junior quarterback Dalton Banks. “We couldn’t make it all come together.”
In the fourth quarter, trailing by 11, Cornell’s offense showed glimpses of the team that knocked off Princeton a few weeks back. Converting two fourth downs — including one by centimeters — the Red maneuvered to the Columbia 26-yard line, threatening to score and burst back into the game.
But on the third consecutive fourth down, Banks was pressured and just barely got a throw off before being taken to the ground. His pass slipped through the hands of freshman wide receiver Dom Anderson, and Columbia took over on downs with 6:33 left to go in the game.
On the ensuing drive, the Lions tacked on their first touchdown of the afternoon, and with 3:28 left on the clock, the 18-point lead would prove insurmountable for Cornell.
“We couldn’t get into a rhythm, it’s kind of the same story as last week,” Banks said. “On man-to-man [defense], you have to beat those guys, and we let our defense down.”
Like last week’s shutout loss to Dartmouth, despite the Red’s paltry offense, Cornell remained in the game thanks to a consistent defense that kept the Lions from running up the score. In Saturday’s action, the Red lingered just six points back of Columbia through the first 35 minutes of the game.
“We lost the time of possession battle by over 10 minutes but for the majority of the game [the defense] kept us in it and really played their hearts out,” Archer said.
On two separate drives with the Lions on the cusp of scoring, big strip sacks from Seth Hope and Daniel Crochet — one recovered by Cornell and one by the Lions — helped derail Columbia and keep Cornell close. And again like Dartmouth, Archer said he kept hoping that, with the defense playing at its best, the offensive pieces would come together, and the Red would take the lead.
But again, that wasn’t the case. Eventually, the wheels came off and Columbia pulled away with the victory, scoring 10 of its 18 points in the final 14 minutes.
The Lions’ second-half scoring was ignited by a safety midway through the third quarter. With Cornell trailing by six, a muffed punt pinned Cornell at the one-yard line. On the very next play, Columbia’s defenders swarmed and swallowed senior captain and running back Jack Gellatly as he tried to escape the end zone. The safety gave Columbia an eight-point edge.
“Credit the defensive line on that, it was just a tremendous play,” said Columbia defensive back Landon Baty. “It really kind of changed the game for us and gave us the momentum. That was huge.”
On Cornell’s next offensive drive, the Red again was forced to work from deep within its own territory. This time, Cornell dug its way out and began to march down the field. But then Banks tossed the Lions a gift, throwing a ball over the middle of the field right to Baty. The Lions flipped the turnover into three points, making the game a two-possession contest late in the third quarter for a deficit Cornell could not overcome.
With the title no longer on the line, the Red travels to Penn next week to try to earn a winning record in the league for the first time since 2005.
“This is these seniors’ last time playing football, so you want to go out there and play your heart out for them and leave them with a win,” Banks said. “You always are remembered by the last thing you did, so we want them to feel good about it and fight as hard as they can for those guys who are going to be leaving us.”
The game kicks off at 1:30 p.m. from Franklin Field.