October 26, 2001

Football Team Seeks Elusive First Win

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Three teams succumbed to the Cornell football team’s fourth quarter heroics last year by a mere point. Two of those teams have already had their sweet revenge against the Red so far this year. Tomorrow, Cornell will face the third in Princeton, N.J., when the team takes the field against the Tigers at 1 p.m.

But while Princeton (1-4, 1-2 Ivy) will undoubtedly remember its 29-28 loss on a botched extra point in the waning seconds of last years game, Cornell (0-5, 0-3) hopes to find an easier time playing against a statistically similar team.

The Red has suffered from a rigorous schedule so far pitting it against Yale, Harvard and Brown — perhaps three of the top four Ivy League teams. Its non-conference games were fought against even stronger squads Lehigh and Colgate. For the first time since 1984, both Princeton and Cornell find themselves in the bottom half of the Ivy League, as the Red still seeks its first win on the season.

“We’re going to go down there and play hard. We’re going to have fun,” head coach Tim Pendergast said of a team that hasn’t had much fun halfway through its abbreviated season.

The Red offense has a good chance to get on its feet against the young Princeton defense. With sophomore John Meagro becoming more comfortable as the starting center in place of senior Matt Holleran and only one senior on the Tiger defensive line, Cornell should be able to commit to the running game early and often.

“They have some youth on defense. They give up more yards than they want to,” Pendergast noted, critiquing his own defense for its bend-but-don’t-break style that finds itself breaking too often.

The Cornell defense will need to be tougher than usual with the Tigers’ field goal kicking abilities. Taylor Northrop, who has been less than discreet about his NFL aspirations, needs eight more field goals to break the all-time Ivy record (41). He also doubles as Princeton’s punter.

In order to stay out of field-goal range, the Red can’t let Cameron Atkinson rush for his current average of 5.6 yards per carry.

The secondary must also be on its toes, losing juniors Jordan Hase two weeks and Roscoe Newsom last weekend to injury. The decimated backfield will have to watch out for wide receiver Chisom Opara in the line up. He is averaging 17.2 yards per reception.

“We’ve got to play with a lot of speed,” Pendergast said. “They like to run the perimeter, they’ll run a little bit of option on us.

“They’ll try to get the match-ups outside. They’ll try go one-on-one.”

The Princeton quarterback situation is also in limbo between the sophomore David Splithoff and senior Brian Danielewicz. Splithoff will start for the Tigers, but Danielewicz may make a late entrance, especially if the sophomore gets into trouble.

The keys for the Red will be special teams and turnovers.

Like the offense and defense, both teams have parallel numbers in most categories. Northrop has a three-yard advantage over freshman Michael Baumgartel in punting average (39.3-36.8), while Cornell carries a similar advantage in punt return (11.25-8.1). The averages in kickoff and kickoff return are negligible.

“When you have two equally matched teams, special teams can make the difference,” Pendergast said.

But it is not practical to count on special teams to win a game without consistency on both sides of the ball.

Most importantly, the Red needs to limit its turnovers. Already it has four more on the year than Princeton. Meanwhile the Tigers have forced 15 turnovers, three times the amount of the Red.

“The winner of this one isn’t going to out-talent the other one. The winner of this one is going to have the fewest mistakes,” Pendergast imagined.

Cornell will need to recoup from its five-game losing streak as its resilience will be tested this weekend along with its preparation. Pendergast doesn’t believe that the team will have trouble grouping as long as it minimizes its costly turnovers.

“We haven’t fallen apart,” he boasted. “That says a lot about these men.

“We all know that we’ve beaten ourselves because we’ve made mistakes. No one has really beaten us. The culprit in every loss so far has been Cornell, but I’m real proud of this team.”

Archived article by Amanda Angel