After a thrilling six-overtime victory over Penn, the Cornell sprint football team expected an easy win this past Friday against league newcomer Franklin Pierce, but were treated with a surprise, as Franklin Pierce almost beat the Red before falling 26-21 in its first ever sprint football game. The Red (2-0, 1-0 CSFL) was impressed by the Ravens (0-1) and their play.
“I wasn’t particularly surprised with how well they played,” said junior co-captain and quarterback Brendan Miller. “I was watching their game film last week and [it was] pretty impressive for a team that didn’t know each other until about 25 days ago and got together and learned a whole offensive and defensive playbook.”
“Something that helped them out was that the coach from Post University, which had just joined the league recently, had gone over to Franklin Pierce to coach them,” said senior defensive lineman Will Edmonds. “They came out with a pretty solid game plan which we weren’t expecting. It was definitely a good game.”
The Red struggled out of the gate, as it turned it over on its first possession off a tipped Miller pass and gave up a 19-yard touchdown run on Franklin Pierce’s first offensive snap. Despite the early touchdown, the Red was not fazed.
“It was really just two small mistakes that ended up as a score [for Franklin Pierce],” Edmonds said. “The interception was actually tipped; that was the only reason it was an interception. The touchdown was just one missed assignment … it’s two things that could easily have been prevented, so it’s not like they came out and just beat us; it was just two small mistakes that we needed to immediately look past and remember that we had four quarters left.”
“Immediately [after the first touchdown], we got together as a team [and stressed], that’s part of a game; they got really lucky and we were still a better team,” said senior wide receiver Spenser Gruenefelder. “We played [from behind] for the first half but that was fine.”
On offense, the trio of Miller, senior co-captain and wide receiver Abe Mellinger and Gruenenfelder had another solid day. Miller passed for 214 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, Mellinger hauled in four catches for 102 yards and Gruenenfelder caught four passes for 90 yards and a touchdown. However, the most spectacular play of the day belongs to senior running back Daniel Sussman, who displayed some incredible athleticism in hauling in a crucial 11-yard first down in the fourth quarter.
“Sussman started out as a running back and I saw him catch a couple balls from that position, but he’s never played receiver before, then all of a sudden he winds up at wide receiver,” Miller explained. “When we were driving down in our last possession [down 21-20], it was third down and I held the ball too long and was forced to throw the ball to him. To be honest I thought it was going to sail over his head, but he made one of the most outstanding catches I’ve ever seen and we ended up getting the first down and we ended up scoring — without the catch, it would have been fourth down. It was a horrific throw by me, but he made it look pretty good.”
“We threw a screen pass to [Sussman] and Miller left it behind him and pretty high and he just did this acrobatic move, jumping backwards, snagging it out of the air surrounded by defense,” Gruenenfelder said. “That kept us alive because we were down one at that point.”
On the defensive side, it was a solid team effort after that first possession, as Franklin Pierce only scored two more touchdowns the rest of the game. Sophomore defensive back Chris Sitko led the way with nine tackles, while sophomore defensive back Eric Stazi and junior linebacker Kyle Higgins each recorded six tackles and combined to record a sack. Despite the solid effort, the team believes this was not the best it can play.
“Defensively, it was not a flattering game for us,” said senior defensive lineman Chris Leyen. “We pulled out the win, but we did not play to the best of our abilities and that’s something we need to work for as we face the other teams in our league.”
The biggest moment for the defense was when Franklin Pierce got the ball back with two minutes after Cornell’s last score. They managed to record a four-and-out and the offense kneeled it three times for the victory.
“We knew that if we performed at a certain level, [we would] stop them and we just needed to get to that level,” Edmonds said. “We brought back all the starters and it was simple: fourth-and-out and the game was ours. Everybody was focused and we got the job done.”
“When the offense does its job and gets the ball in the end zone, we have to make that stand,” Leyen agreed. “It shows the character of your team; if you want to be a championship contending team, you have to be able to … step up and make the stop.”
After starting 2-0, the Red is very excited for its upcoming game against Princeton, according to Gruenenfelder.
“We’re really looking forward to Princeton; we only have four days to practice, but we’re clicking and practice is going to go really well this week,” he said. “I’m looking forward for Princeton and things are looking up.”