First game a fluke? Fuhgeddaboutit.
The Cornell sprint football team regained some of its swagger, rumbling over Princeton 27-6 en route to its first victory of the season on Saturday.
The Red’s defensive quickness and power ground game, were simply too much for the Tigers (0-1) to overcome.
“We lost some key seniors but this defense is as good if not better than last year,” senior tri-captain Martin Vogel noted. “Last year our secondary was the strongest unit, but this year I think it is the line. All of us have played three to four years, and know what needs to be done. When the line is working well it frees up the defense to make big plays without losing coverage from blitzing as much.”
That Princeton wasn’t ready for the Red rush was apparent from the first whistle, when the Tigers’ Matt Babinski fumbled the kickoff into his own endzone before saving face with a 15-yard scramble. After a quick three and out, Princeton punter Peter Richter couldn’t handle the snap and junior Eric Eisenhart recovered the fumble at the Princeton five yard-line. It only took two plays for sophomore Dean Coccaro to record his first career touchdown on a three-yard scamper up the middle.
Coccaro is quickly establishing himself as the team’s workhorse, gaining 122 yards in his first two games, including 41 against the Tigers.
The rest of the first half saw both defenses display their mettle. On Princeton’s ensuing drive, sophomore Matthew Wesley came up with his first career interception while shadowing his receiver along the sideline.
Cornell got the ball back on its own 41, and Coccaro then ripped off a 30-yard run around the right tackle. But one play later, the Tiger defense knocked the ball from senior quarterback Sunil Gupta’s hands, leading to a turnover. Gupta had a rough outing on his first start at quarterback. He threw an interception inside the Tiger 20-yard line on the next series and finished 2-for-4 for 27 yards.
Nonetheless, Princeton’s mistakes allowed the Red to pull away. Princeton recorded a 0-yard punt, a quarterback fumble and a 15-yard late hit penalty on consecutive series. The Tigers finished with eight fumbles on the day.
“[Our] goal is to put the other team’s offense in a hole early by stopping the run and forcing them to have to pass on third and long,” Vogel said. “When you are sure a pass is coming it makes it easier for us on the line to rush and make sacks, and for the secondary to make their interceptions.”
The late-hit penalty left the Red on the Princeton 23-yard line, where junior Charlie Tam turned on the magic. He took a handoff from Gupta and slid left, but quickly ran into his own man. He then bounced back, and took off to his right where there was nothing but Schoellkopf turf in his way, making it 13-0 in favor of Cornell.
The Red added two more scores in the third quarter, putting the game out of reach. Tam ran in his second touchdown, setup by a Gupta-to-Ormsby 27-yard pass play, and junior Adam Romeiser brought a scintillating 80-yard punt return to the house giving Cornell a 27-0 advantage.
Late in the third, Princeton decided to attempt a comeback as quarterback Dennis Blake found Adam Ferren for a 36-yard gain. But at the goal line, the defensive line came through again as junior Scott McQuade and senior tri-captain Martin Vogel sacked Blake on third down.
“Scott McQuade had [Blake] by the jersey and I was ready to come finish him off but he moved at the last second and I barely got my arm on him,” described Vogel. “I thought he got away, but I looked over and he was on the ground.”
The ensuing field goal was blocked.
Princeton finally got on the board late in the fourth quarter when backup quarterback L.T. Lawler found Matt Hall in the right corner of the endzone on a 26-yard beauty.
The Red prevailed despite being gained 319-164 yards in total offense and running 24 fewer plays, largely due to the play of the defense, which had three sacks, three recovered-fumbles and three interceptions. The offense recorded a season-high 130 yards on the ground.
Cornell now has a week off before playing Navy in the Pride Bowl on October 14.
Archived article by Sumeet Sarin