HAMILTON, N.Y. — It wasn’t yet a minute into the first quarter.
On just the second play of the Colgate-Cornell football game Saturday afternoon, Raiders’ running back Nate Thomas exploded through a porous Cornell defense for a 76-yard touchdown run, and it seemed as though the Red were destined for the same fate that befell it the previous weekend when it was routed by Yale, 41-13.
Despite a run defense that continued to be largely ineffective, the squad showed a considerable improvement from the Yale game, but came up on the short end of a 35-32 decision.
The Red was able to regain some of the aerial attack that had been its staple last year. Senior quarterback Ricky Rahne completed 21 of his 35 attempts for 263 yards — nearly 100 more than Cornell earned in New Haven. Freshman Jon Kellner emerged as the Red’s premier deep threat in the game, making six grabs for an impressive 116 yards. However, junior standout wide receiver Keith Ferguson was lost to injury.
“He got whiplash…He had a mild concussion,” head coach Tim Pendergast offered.
After Colgate gained the lead on the opening drive, the Red mounted a 15-play, 80 yard drive on which senior running back Evan Simmons scored on a two-yard run to even the score.
Toward the end of the first quarter, Colgate was threatening to score. On a fourth and goal play from the Cornell eight yard line, fifth-year senior defensive back Phil Rigueur burst across the Raider’s offensive line and sacked junior quarterback Tom McCune for a loss of 13 yards.
Pendergast noted that the play gave the Red important momentum.
“Any time you make plays like that you have a chance,” he noted.
The teams remained deadlocked at seven at halftime.
Cornell continued to show the ability to move the ball downfield as the second half opened. Although Rahne and company were unable to find the endzone after getting to a first and goal situation from the five, senior kicker Peter Iverson connected on a 21-yard field goal attempt to give the Red its first — and only — advantage in the game.
One of the reasons Cornell was able to accrue offensive yardage was that it came closer to approximating its preseason goal of a balnced attack of run and pass.
Simmons had 12 carries for 72 yards as the Red as a team ran the ball 38 times for a total of 155 yards. Junior fullback Nate Archer added to the cause with 41 yards.
Simmons praised the balance of the offense and said the success was due in large part to the sharing of responsibility.
“When the fullbacks run well and a young guy like Jon [Kellner] takes steps up, it takes some pressure of me,” he reasoned.
This effort left Pendergast pleased and he believed it opened the passing game.
“This week we…knew that we had to run the ball. And when you run you’re able to throw,” the coach offered.
Rahne attributed the overall offensive success to a team effort.
“I thought our offensive line played great today. I thought Evan ran the ball well and our fullbacks ran great. Our receivers made the big plays,” he said.
Pendergast was pleased with his team’s improvement on the offensive side of the ball.
“Offensively, we moved the ball. We made a couple of mistakes but we moved the football. So our job is now to continue to put points down on the board and get better on defense,” he explained.
From that point on, the combination of turnovers and the inability of the Cornell defense to contain Thomas did the Red in. Pendergast acknowledged the impact of his squad’s errors, attributing some of them to the quality of Cornell’s opponent.
“We made mistakes, some very critical and some very costly. But we also forced our opponent into some very critical and costly mistakes. Colgate played a great football game. They are a very good football team, make no doubt about it,” he said.
Thomas amassed a career-high 222 yards. His 21-yard run midway through the third stanza put the home side ahead for good.
The Red fell behind by 17 with under five minutes in the fourth quarter before it mounted a frantic comeback, scoring two touchdowns in less than 90 seconds.
Rahne connected with sophomore Chad Nice on a 16-yard touchdown pass with 2:46 left on the clock. The scoreboard read 35-24 after a failed two point conversion.
The ensuing play was the most controversial of the game as the Red accomplished the improbable — recovering an onside kick. However, there was speculation amongst the home crowd and Colgate coaching staff that the ball might not have traveled the required ten yards before it was recovered.
Despite the confusion surrounding the play, Rahne authored a dazzling six play drive on the subsequent possession capped off by a 22-yard aerial connection with Kellner. Cornell turned two on a run play for Simmons.
The Red would not have the same fortune after that though. The Raiders recovered the next on-side kick attempt and let time expire.
Two Cornell turnovers in between put the game out of reasonable reach. Both of Rahne’s two interceptions led to Colgate touchdowns.
Pendergast noted that his squad needed to do a better job holding onto the ball.
“There is never a good time to turn over the football. We work awful hard…to try to secure the ball. We turned the ball over three times today, we have to work on that,” he explained
Rahne readily accepted the blame for the interceptions.
“I basically gave them 14 points,” he admitted.
The dagger in Cornell’s heart came with the score 28-18, Colgate. With under eight and a half minutes in the game junior safety Ameer Riley made an eyebrowing raising interception leading to a third touchdown run for Thomas.
The Red will return to the friendly confines of Schoellkopf Field to open its home campaign on Saturday with a 1 p.m.. contest against Lehigh.
Archived article by Gary Schueller