The running game was the question.
Larry Stark seems to be the answer.
The 360-pound freshman opened gaps in the defense for the second week in a row, helping spring a Cornell rushing offense that had been AWOL as few as three weeks ago.
Behind his blocking, Ricky Rahne, Evan Simmons and the Cornell offense crossed into the endzone seven times, including five times on the ground, as Cornell (4-4, 4-1 Ivy) defeated Dartmouth (1-7, 0-5 Ivy) 49-31 on Schoellkopf Field on Saturday.
Despite disparities in the two teams’ win-loss records, this was no easy contest for the Red. Dartmouth had its chances on the day, and actually took the lead six seconds into the fourth quarter.
A pair of goalline stands for Cornell, including denying junior running back Michael Gratch his fourth touchdown on third down from the one, meant Dartmouth faced a critical fourth-and-goal from the two while down 28-24 with the third quarter winding down.
Quarterback Greg Smith rolled right and found a diving Matt DeLellis in the endzone to give the Green its final lead of the day at 31-28.
From that point on though, it was all Cornell.
Simmons tore up the Green defense in the final quarter, running 13 times for 87 yards. While he didn’t add another touchdown to his three first half scores, the junior continued to pound the ball at the Dartmouth defensive line late in the game, wearing it down.
“Evan ran extremely hard,” said Cornell head coach Pete Mangurian. “We felt that speed was to our advantage against this team … and Evan obviously made that pretty clear.”
The Green defense, which had allowed Cornell a total of one yard in the third quarter, finally wore down and was beat for 145 yards and three critical touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Justin Dunleavy ran for a pair of one-yard touchdowns and Rahne completed a four-yard strike to fullback Nate Archer to finally slam the door shut on the resurgent Dartmouth.
The day did not begin as well as it ended, however.
Dartmouth opened the contest by going 63 yards on nine plays, capped off by a Gratch touchdown run from six. Gratch was the catalyst for the scoring drive as well, as he tore up the sideline for 38 yards to the home team’s 31. The play came on a big third-and-six on Dartmouth’s third play from scrimmage.
Despite the defensive troubles, Cornell’s offense was running on all cylinders in the first quarter. The Red exploited a soft Dartmouth passing defense for passes underneath, methodically moving the ball down the field.
Dartmouth could do little to stop Cornell on either of the first two Big Red drives, forcing the home team into third down only once. Each ended in touchdowns, one a 21-yard passing strike from Ricky Rahne to Tim Hermann, the second on a five-yard run by junior tailback Evan Simmons.
Yet, for every Cornell score in the first half, Gratch seemed to be there with the answer.
His 141-yard performance was the first time a Dartmouth player had rushed for 100 yards this year. His second touchdown of the day, a 17-yard run, pulled the Green even at 14-14 with 13 seconds left on the clock in the first quarter. His third touchdown, a 20-yard dash up the heart of the defense, pulled Dartmouth within four at 28-24.
“The line got some great blocks… we were able to make a few people miss and get some yardage,” Gratch said. “But none of those yards mattered today because of the result.”
When it mattered most though, Simmons was spectacular. With the Red down 31-28, Cornell handed the ball to its running back, who obliged by cutting through the Green defense and making the plays that wore down the clock and moved the chains.
Cornell capitalized on Dartmouth turnovers all day, as Smith fumbled twice and threw an interception to sophomore Vincent Bates at the Red two yard line. Cornell scored 14 points off Green mistakes while making none of its own.
“When a team is struggling, turnovers are usually the root of it,” Mangurian said. “We needed to get [turnovers].”
“We keep coming out of ballgames -3 in the turnover ratio and you just can’t do that,” Dartmouth head coach John Lyons noted.
With the win, the Red remain tied for the Ivy League lead with Harvard and Penn, whom the Red will face in the final weekend of play. Cornell faces Columbia next week on the road.
Archived article by Charles Persons