Their hearts in their mouths, Ricky Rahne and Corey Ziskind stood anxiously on the Cornell sidelines. The game out of their hands, the pair could only pray and hope that the Red’s special teams unit would preserve the Red’s fragile 24-23 lead.
With the game clock paused at only :02 during Saturday afternoon’s Homecoming contest against Yale, they watched in anticipation as the Elis’ place-kicker Mike Murawczyk, All-Ivy a year ago, lined up for a 32-yard chip shot, one that would hand Cornell a gut-wrenching loss in its first Ivy League game.
“It looked good,” Rahne said of his initial view of the kick. “I wasn’t very happy at first.”
But he quickly realized just how wrong he was.
The throngs of Cornellians who raced onto Schoellkopf Field to both celebrate Murawczyk’s miss and to mob the Red players were just expressing their combined sense of relief and excitement brought about by a game highlighted by enough lead changes and momentum switches to cause a community heart attack.
“This [win] isn’t just about football,” head coach Pete Mangurian said. “It’s about character. I’m just so proud of these guys for hanging in.”
“This is the greatest feeling in the world,” exuded junior tailback, Evan Simmons, who rushed for 117 yards on the day.
However, with 3:29 left on the clock, things didn’t look so rosy for the Red (1-1, 1-0 Ivy). Down 23-17, the squad faced a 4th down-and-6 at the Yale 37-yard line. But coming out of a timeout, Rahne found senior wide receiver Joe Splendorio on a quick slant route. Splendorio bounced off a defensive back and fell forward for a clutch first-down.
Two plays later, Rahne once again connected with his favorite target, this time for a 15-yard touchdown that put the Red ahead, 24-23.
“We just needed to step up and make a play,” Splendorio explained. “I thought the ball was going to come my way, and I got it.”
Splendorio had five catches for 101 yards.
After a grim 28-for-64 performance last week, Rahne vindicated himself on Saturday [see accompanying story], throwing for 212 yards on 17-of-30 passing.
More importantly, he played a major role in all three of the Red’s touchdowns.
After Yale made the first dent on the scoreboard with a 40-yard field goal by Murawczyk, Rahne trotted into the end zone untouched with 4:30 left in the first quarter, pumping his fists triumphantly along the way for a 14-yard run.
A field goal by Peter Iverson 2:49 into the second stanza made the score 10-3 in favor of the Red, before Yale running back Rashad Bartholemew raced for a 30-yard score, topped off by a hurtling dive into the end zone before he was pushed out of bounds.
Bartholemew, second-team All-Ivy last season, scorched the Red for 180 yards on Saturday, averaging 7.5 yards per carry.
A short-run by the Elis’ Jay Schulze and another Murwaczyk field goal nudged the Yale lead to 20-10.
And that’s when the fun began.
Of the 16,634 fans that attended, those who stayed on through the rainy conclusion witnessed a game that equaled any of the cardiac comebacks of last year.
Early in the fourth quarter, Rahne dumped a short pass to junior rusher Justin Dunleavy. Just as the play looked as it was about to flop, a block by sophomore wideout Keith Ferguson sprung Dunleavy free for an 18-yard touchdown run that brought the Red within three points.
But Cornell’s completion of the comeback seemed just about dead when Yale junior quarterback Peter Lee threaded a pass to senior flanker Eric Johnson in the back of the end zone with a little more than four minutes left in the game. As Johnson struck the turf, the ball bounced out of his hands. Though Yale made good on a field goal, it nonetheless left the door wide open for Cornell.
And the Red marched right through.
On the ensuing kick-off, Vincent Bates squirted through the Eli special teams for a 37-yard return to the Red 48, putting Cornell in prime field position.
“I think special teams had a lot to do in this [victory],” Mangurian noted. “That last touchdown is the result of a great return. The ball’s at midfield and that changes a lot of things.”
Following Splendorio’s first touchdown catch of the year, it was then up to the defense to hold the lead.
Sophomore linebacker Derek Kingrey forced Yale’s first turnover of the day, making a clutch interception just as the Elis were driving down the field in search of a game-winning score.
“Our defense made some huge plays when they had to make one,” Mangurian said. “How big is that play that Derek Kingrey makes?”
But Yale had one more try. After a Joe Hull punt, the Elis found themselves on their own 23 with 42 ticks on the clock and no time outs remaining. After five completions by Lee, they were on the Cornell 17, only to miss the game-winning field goal.
“Neither team quit,” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki reflected, adding, “We still had an opportunity to win the game. We certainly got down to makeable field goal range, and that’s all you can ask.”
In an anomaly, Yale came out the winner in nearly statistical category, including rushing yards, total yards, first downs, third down conversions and turnovers. The only one in which the Elis came up short was the score.
“I think we’re going to look at the stats and be cryin’, but it was one of those days,” Siedlecki said. “It comes down to big players making big plays.”
Now that the Red has opened its Ivy League schedule by dispatching arguably its closest competitor for the conference title, it has to try its luck next week at Lehigh.
“‘We’re going to have to prove [ourselves] again against Lehigh,” Mangurian asserted. “But, we can savor this one today.”
Archived article by Shiva Nagaraj