Cornell’s special teams unit wasn’t the only one lighting up the game sprint football game last Friday night, as Chelsea Clinton and her entourage of Secret Service agents joined the students in watching the Red lose to Pennsylvania 23–0. She cheered, jeered, and grimaced with the rest of the crowd, as turnovers and penalties slaughtered any ideas of a Red offensive drive. Her big smile could get anybody’s heart pumping — except that of the Cornell offense.
If there was a game ball to be given, the Red’s special teams members earned it. Junior punter Brian Allen oohed and ahead the crowd with dazzling punt after dazzling punt. Establishing three-plus second hang-times and covering an incredible amount of yardage, each punt seemed to sap the momentum away from the Quakers. Every single one put a dagger into the heart of the Penn offense, forcing it to drive long distances to score and demanding it perfection against the swarming Big Red defense.
“I try not think about the process,” Allen said. “I’ve got the physical part down, but I just can’t overthink it. There are a couple of fundamental things that I have to keep in mind — first to hold the ball far enough away from me, and second not to curl my toe after I kick.
“The thing about the punter,” he continued, “is that when you do well, you were supposed to do well. But when you do badly, then it’s your fault.”
Matching the ferocity of the punting, junior Angelo Palmeri of the punt coverage team recovered a fumbled punt return by Penn, giving the offense its best chance to score in the game.
Meanwhile senior tri-captain Imad Baggar juked, jived, and spun around defender after confused defender in earning precious yards on kickoff returns, breaking his second 40-plus yard return of the season in the process. He and senior Bo Sangosanya combined for 125 yards on five returns. The field-goal defensive unit was also phenomenal, blocking one field goal, getting a hand on another, blocking an extra point attempt, and stopping a fake field goal. Bodies were flying everywhere, desperately trying to give the Red some inkling of momentum.
But in the end, the offense simply could not score points.
“The biggest problem we have,” Allen said, “is that we know who to block, but we don’t execute. We see it on film, but we don’t do it on the field.”
Besides shaky blocking, the game saw almost every Red series halted and moved back by linesman Barry Lippencot’s little yellow hanky. Time and again Cornell was forced to gain ten extra yards just to get to the original line of scrimmage.
On the other hand, the Penn offense, even with its number-one quarterback out with a broken jaw, did not lose a step. Freshman quarterback James Donapel led four scoring drives on 6-of-17 passing for 66 yards. Penn outgained Cornell 368 yards to 92 — 302 of which were on the ground.
The beginning of the game saw the Cornell’s defense completely dominate the Quaker offense. With Penn driving through the red zone, Baggar suddenly stripped the ball from a running back and recovered the fumble. The offense stalled, however, and after a punt, Penn got the ball back in Cornell territory.
The defense quickly forced a third-and-13 situation, expecting to get the ball back easily. As Donapel dropped back to pass, the defensive line quickly penetrated to get to him. Recognizing the pressure, Donapel took off, weaving his way through the defenders for a 50-yard touchdown gallop. This play set off an avalanche of Penn scores that left the Red in a 17-0 halftime deficit.
Asked how she felt about the game at the half, Chelsea smiled and responded, “I wish Cornell was winning” — the very mantra sprint football fans have been intoning all season.
The second half opened with Baggar’s big return. The Big Red offense tried capitalizing on the momentum, reaching the Penn 12-yard line on the strength of senior tri-captain Andrew Goodman’s legs and freshman quarterback Michael Antonecchia’s arm. However, a sack and a holding penalty pushed Cornell to the 24 yard-line. The Penn defense forced an interception after a bobbled pass, and effectively ended any chance for Cornell to come back.
“They weren’t really that much better than us. They didn’t have better athletes than us. It was just a matter of execution. All the little things added up,” Allen explained.
Cornell will get one final chance to correct its execution this Friday at Princeton — its final game of the game season.
Archived article by Sumeet Sarin