NEW YORK, N.Y. — The Cornell football team will play for an Ivy title this weekend due to last minute heroics against Columbia this past Saturday.
Junior Justin Dunleavy put the Red up for good with just 44 seconds left in the game on a one-yard run, and the Cornell defense was able to preserve the 35-31 lead by stopping the Lions two yards short on the final play of the game.
While the contest may have belonged to Cornell, it was Columbia’s Johnathan Reese who stole the show. Reese had three touchdowns, including a 92-yard kickoff return, to almost single-handedly keep the Lions in the contest.
Indeed, Reese started the scoring in the game by taking a busted play 18 yards for a touchdown. The play was supposed to be a reverse, but Reese slipped and was not able to hand the ball off. He nonetheless found a seam in the Cornell defense and took the pigskin to the endzone.
The Red responded with a touchdown of its own, marching 57 yards on 10 plays, capped by a toss from junior quarterback Ricky Rahne to sophomore fullback Nathan Archer.
After the first Red touchdown, every person in Wien stadium was made aware of Reese’s athletic prowess. Fielding the ensuing kick-off at the Columbia eight yard-line, he calmly cruised through the first wave of would-be Cornell tacklers and split to the right. Up the sideline he raced, and with a teammate providing interference on freshman kicker Joe Hull, Reese crossed into the endzone. It was the first time the Red has allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown since Terence Parham of Bucknell managed the feat in 1994.
“It crossed my mind as soon as I saw he had it, ‘That’s not the guy you want with the ball,'” Cornell head coach Pete Mangurian said of the play.
The teams traded punts on the next four drives, due primarily to the Red’s defense stopping the run and the Lions getting excellent pressure on Rahne.
“They did a good job taking away our best play — our sweep play. They got some penetration and knocked down our first pullers,” Columbia head coach Ray Tellier said of the Red defense which allowed only 54 net rushing yards on the day.
?????????? The drive included two third-down and a fourth-down conversions, and came to fruition when Rahne found senior Edgar Romney on a slant in the endzone to make the score 14-14 with only 1:24 remaining in the half.
But Columbia made the most of that time, moving 49 yards on eight plays, concluding with a 33-yard field goal by Michael Waln to make the score 17-14 at the half.
Columbia stretched the lead to 10 points at the start of the second half, as it went 81 yards in six plays, including four rushes by Reese which totaled 41 yards. The touchdown came on a Jeff McCall pass to Jarel Cockburn, who caught the ball over the shoulder on his way into the endzone.
This was the theme for the Lions’ offense on the day, as it was unable to get the running game going. The team was able to covert on many long passes, including a screen play to Reese which went for 77 yards. On the day McCall threw for 349 yards and a touchdown.
“They made big plays, and that’s what kept them in the game,” Mangurian said.
Despite being down by 10 points, the Red stayed poised, and marched down the field for a touchdown of it own. Junior running back Evan Simmons crossed the goalline from five yards out to pull the squad within three.
After the Red defense held the Lions to a three and out, and forced a punt into the wind, Cornell had excellent field position at the Columbia 35 yard-line. On second-and-10, Rahne rolled to his right to avoid pressure. As he got into open field he took off down the sideline, picked up some blocks by his receivers, and waltzed into the Columbia endzone to put the Red up 28-24 after an extra point kick by junior Peter Iverson.
“I just kind of got outside and ran. As you can probably see I’m not the greatest runner in the world, but there was nobody there so I figured I might as well try to score,” Rahne laughed. “I got kind of lucky I guess. They were probably expecting me to throw it once I got outside the pocket, because that’s what I usually do.”
And though he may not have the best 40-yard sprint times, Rahne’s touchdown changed the flow of the game — for the first time the Lions had to play catch-up.
Over the next few series Cornell was unable to win the field position battle, or put the game away.
“I thought we had our opportunities to make it not as close as it was, and we missed some of those,” Mangurian said.
With five minutes to play, Columbia started a drive at its own 45 yard-line, and promptly stormed down the field for a touchdown. McCall hit Doug Peck for 45 yards, and then went back to him to put the ball on the one yard-line. From there Reese took the ball into the endzone, putting the Lions up three with 4:21 to play.
But everyone wearing Red knew what was coming.
Columbia was forced to re-kick after booting its first attempt out of bounds, and sophomore Vincent Bates returned it 40-yards to the Columbia 41.
“Arguably the biggest play of the game is Vinny’s return on the second kickoff after the penalty, which gives you good field position where you can run the football and not throw it every down and get into that pass rush stuff they were doing,” Mangurian said.
Simmons established a ground game, as he rushed six times on the drive, putting the ball inside the one yard-line before Dunleavy got the call and put the Red up for good, 35-31.
“I’m just glad I got a chance to put it in for a touchdown,” Dunleavy said of his touchdown.
McCall rallied his troops, and after a 30-yard completion to Cockburn, the quarterback hit Peck at the Cornell two yard-line, where Bates pulled him down. But as McCall tried to spike the ball to set-up the final play, time expired.
“The ball has to be snapped as soon as the whistle blows, because the clock doesn’t start on the snap. I heard the whistle blow and a second went off and we got it snapped and time ran out,” Tellier said.
“It is difficult — you have 11 guys who need to be in a legal formation, set, and it takes time,” Mangurian said.
Now the Red must re-group and prepare for Penn and the unofficial Ivy title game.
“We are all very happy with the situation. It is what we have been playing for all year long,” Mangurian said. “It is our opportunity now to win this thing, and you couldn’t ask for a better situation that to play at home for the championship. We know what kind of team Penn is, we know what we are up against and we are just looking forward to the opportunity.”
Archived article by J.V. Anderton