September 24, 2001

Sprint Football Falls to Penn in Final Seconds

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With one second left in the game, the Cornell sprint football team held a 17–13 lead over Pennsylvania. With one second left, the Red crowded the sidelines ready to rush the field in celebration of an upset beyond comprehension. With one second left, Penn literally shook in its pants, unwilling to face the ridicule awaiting it at home. But there was still that one second left to play.

Penn lined up at the Cornell 18–yard line, having one last chance to avoid being beaten by a team that hadn’t even scored on it in their last four contests. Quarterback James Donapel ran a quick snap and dropped back to pass.

Everyone covered.

The Cornell defense had read the play well. Suddenly, the Quaker offensive line began to break down, and a Red lineman’s hands almost grabbed Donapel for a sack. But the wily quarterback stepped up into the pocket and drifted to his left. After staring into a sea of Red defensive backs, he gave a quick look his right and let the ball fly.

The crowd saw the play unfold much before the Red defense did: Penn wideout Tim Murphy had quietly slipped through the line and ran to the far right side of the field. The ball floated to him, he turned, and let it drop in his hands.

Touchdown Penn, 19-17.

The Quakers had avoided the upset as the Red was left in utter shock. It dropped from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows in the matter of one second.

“We haven’t been winning a lot, and we came back from ten points down. It was a big letdown,” commented sophomore Michael Ormsby.

But, in fact, all was not lost. And in spite of its initial disappointment, the Red extracted many positives. First, a quarterback situation that had looked dire at best, is suddenly one of the brightest spots on the team. Senior tri–captain Sunil Gupta and junior Charlie Tam rotated throughout the game, providing an effective one–two punch of running and drop–back passing. Tam had trouble igniting an offense that hadn’t been active since the 1999 season. The Red mustered four total yards in the first quarter.

But when Gupta entered the game three minutes before half–time, the team suddenly came alive.

“In the beginning of the game we wanted to run to attack their defense,” Ormsby explained. “That wasn’t working so the coaches decided to open it up. We attacked their secondary, and we found their weakness.”

Gupta completed two passes to sophomore Henry Kim for 29 yards. Four downs later, freshman kicker Chris Garnic nailed a 27–yard field goal to leave the score at 10–3 going into the half. Tam sparked a much–needed ground game in the fourth–quarter, scoring a touchdown on a two–yard dash.

Second, the defense proved that it was as solid as last year’s version, if not as dominant. The Red held Penn to only three points over a crucial third quarter, allowing the team to stay in the game.

Third, the running game proved it could be relied upon as sophomore Dean Coccaro ran 19 times for 82 yards, many of which came in two key time–consuming fourth quarter drives. Tam added 22 yards on his 19 carries and the team rang up 114 total yards on the ground.

All three of these positives came together in the fourth quarter — one of the most impressive quarters of football in recent memory.

The quarter began with Cornell down 13–3, holding the ball on its own 22–yard line. With Gupta at the Q and Coccaro and Tam alternating in the backfield, the team reached the Penn 43–yard line before stalling for three downs. Fourth down and a long four yards to go, a crowd of over 300 clamored for anything but a punt.

Cullen sent out his special teams unit nonetheless, and Garnic lined up for another booming punt, having averaged 37 yards per kick. The ball was hiked, and the Penn defense setup for the return. But the ball didn’t reach Garnic. Coccaro cut in front of its path, and ran around the right end for a 20–yard gain.

Three plays later, Gupta dropped back and lofted a floater into the endzone to sophomore Michael Ormsby. Ormsby stopped, jumped over his defender, and scored, cutting the Quaker lead to three, 13–10.

“The coaches put me in, and I had a few inches on the defender. Sunil threw a good pass that was easy for me to get to,” Ormsby said. “It was exciting because [the play] got the offense rolling in the fourth quarter.”

Then, midway through the fourth quarter, Penn had the ball at its own 19–yard line. It called a routine run up the middle, but the Red defense forced, and recovered, a fumble.

After a four–yard Tam run, Gupta almost hit Ormsby in the endzone again, but the tight end couldn’t hang on. On third down, Gupta handed off to Tam who took off to his right, but had nowhere to go. He eyed the defenders, suddenly stopped, rifled the ball down the field and hit Ormsby for a nine-yard gain. The drive eventually led to a second Cornell touchdown. The score now stood 17–13.

Penn got the ball back with five minutes left in the game, but the Red defense held on. Senior tri–captain Angelo Palmieri distributed two bone–jarring hits along the way, preventing two all but certain completions. The Cornell offense got the ball back with 2:14 left, but couldn’t run out the clock, and Penn had its final chance, sitting on the 50–yard line with 33 seconds left. Penn drove quickly to the Cornell 18–yard line with five seconds left. On third down, Donapel’s throw into the endzone was almost intercepted by junior Adam Romeiser — an interception that would have ended the game. The clock stopped with one second left, waiting for Murphy’s heroics.

“Even though we were devastated by the loss, we have a lot of things to look forward to, especially from an offensive standpoint,” Ormsby said.

Cornell next plays Princeton this Saturday at 4 p.m. on Schoellkopf Field.

Archived article by Sumeet Sarin