The Red struggled to secure the win this weekend over Princeton after the team failed to capitalize on opportunities in the red zone. Going into its game against Princeton on Friday night, the Cornell sprint football team did not expect a tough game and for a good reason — Princeton had lost 82 straight games and had not won since 1999. However, the Red (3-0) just sneaked out a victory over the Tigers (0-3), 22-15. Although the final score was very close, the game itself was not — the Red was up 20-0 by the half, but just failed to convert many opportunities in the second half.
“I didn’t feel like it was a close game. We were beating ourselves,” said senior captain and wide receiver Abe Mellinger.” I don’t even know how many times we got into the red zone and didn’t execute; that’s embarrassing as an offense. There are a lot of things that we could have done, should have done, would have done ... we can’t rely on the defense to always give us back the ball, we have to capitalize on all the opportunities we get.”
“It feels like we had a million yards on offense, but nothing to show for it,” agreed junior captain and quarterback Brendan Miller. “It was poor execution on my part; I had a few bad passes that should have been touchdowns … it was really disappointing. I don’t think there was one particular reason [why we didn’t convert], it was just because of our execution.”
The game started well for the Red as junior placekicker John Rodriguez just barely converted a 48-yard field goal and followed it up with two touchdown drives. The Red went into the half up 20-0, but still felt it could have converted a few more opportunities.
“We got up 20-0 in the first half, but at the same time we still felt that we left a lot of opportunities on the board there,” said Miller. “As an offense, we just didn’t come through. It feels like we lost even though we won.”
After the half, the Red was again marching down the field, but it had a lot of trouble converting in the red zone. The team had three possessions stall and could not even muster a field goal, as Rodriguez missed one and the other two were blocked by Princeton linebacker/wide receiver John Wolfe. Wolfe also caught a touchdown, a two-point conversion, and had three sacks on the day.
“Field goal blocks are rare occurrences; I think it was that when we came out [for the field goal], we felt we were just settling with the field goal and having that attitude meant that we played with that attitude,” said senior captain and defensive end Will Edmonds. “Having that mentality compared to Princeton, who were just as intense as they were the play before, [was the reason] they blocked them.”
The only points Cornell scored in the second half was a safety on a botched snap on a punt. Although the Red scored just two points in the second half, the game seemed safe as the team had the ball up 22-7 with 4 minutes left. However, Princeton scored a quick touchdown and converted a two-point conversion, but did not successfully recover the onside kick and Cornell squeaked out the victory.
Offensively, the running backs had a great game for the Red. Cornell had several long runs and provided good protection for the quarterback. Freshman running back Ben Herrera led the way with 114 yards on 14 carries and two catches for 17 yards. Junior running back Nick Perez carried the ball for 26 yards and caught a pass for 23 yards on a nice run after the catch.
“The running backs had a good game,” Edmonds praised. “They held strong and there were a lot of really good runs, which was something we really needed to improve on because we didn’t see it at all in the first two games. The run game has really improved and helped us along in this game.”
The offensive line’s play was a big factor in the success of the run game.
“Our offensive line did really well, we worked really hard this week on that,” Mellinger said. “[The success of our run game] was a combination of getting the right call in, getting the line moving, getting a push off the ball.”
Defensively, Cornell had a lack of depth in the defensive backfield as junior safety Riley Scott was injured last week and senior safety Jim Barger was injured against Princeton. Senior safety Derek Saddler filled in admirably and was all over the field, recording eight tackles. Despite his play, Princeton took advantage of the lack of depth by passing more in the second half.
“Our defensive backfield had a few injuries and our depth there was already limited,” Edmonds explained. “We had been putting people in positions they don’t normally play … in the second half there were a lot more passes; they were targeting the areas where we didn’t have much depth.”
Next week, the Red will face Army, the team’s toughest opponent to date, and knows it must perform better in order to win against Army.
“We have the talent to put up a bunch of points on offense every game, but I feel like the last couple games we haven’t been able to pull away,” Miller said. ”If we go into Army like that, it will be a really long and disappointing game for us.”