PRINCETON, N.J. — For the first time this season, senior quarterback Ricky Rahne downed the ball at the 20 yard line and was able to celebrate. Cornell had won its first game of the season, defeating Princeton 10-7 on Saturday afternoon.
“It sure felt good to finally use the ‘victory play’ there. We practice it all the time,” Rahne said after the clock ran down.
Prior to the game, head coach Tim Pendergast predicted that the team which committed the fewest mistakes would claim victory and he was right. Cornell capitalized on three Tiger turnovers while committing none of its own to guarantee a lackluster but nonetheless solid 60 minutes of play.
The Red committed to the running game under the senior leadership of Evan Simmons as it rushed for 126 yards. Simmons contributed a season high 106 yards on 20 carries.
After a scoreless first quarter during which the Cornell defense held in check a prolific Princeton offense that had been averaging 22.8 points per game, the Tigers drew first blood on an eight yard pass from quarterback David Splithoff to tight end Mike Chiusano. The Tigers had found themselves at their own two yard line halfway into the second half. But a determined Splithoff willed the team down the field. Running back Cameron Atkinson surprised the Red for 30 yards on a shovel pass and was brought down midfield. On the following play, Splithoff connected with Pat Schottel for another 26 yards. Kicker extraordinaire Taylor Northrop capped the nine play, 98 yard drive on a successful PAT.
Once done digging a hole for itself, Cornell responded in its next possession. Sophomore Chad Nice returned Northrop’s kickoff to the Red 22 leaving Rahne to take over with less than four minutes remaining in the half. As seconds ticked away, Pendergast was forced to exhaust the two time-outs he had left. It proved propitious as Rahne found junior Keith Ferguson in the shallow left corner of the end zone. Ferguson held onto the 14 yard pass under probable interference infractions from the Princeton territory.
The half ended tied, 7-7.
Cornell regained possession going into the third quarter, but neither offense could gain much momentum during the defense dominated stanza. But the Red was threatening once again entering the final 15 minutes. Two Simmons carries for 22 yards buoyed the team into Tiger territory, and down to the 25 yard line. The squad couldn’t get the first down, so Pendergast called for senior kicker Pete Iverson.
It wasn’t the first attempt Iverson had on the day. He missed a 38 yarder at the end of the Red’s first possession, when the ball veered wide right.
“I just hooked it. It was my fault,” Iverson said of his missed attempt.
But he redeemed himself, putting Cornell in the driver seat when the 40 yarder cleared the uprights.
“Earlier in the game when I missed the 38 yarder,” Iverson said shaking his head, “that is inexcusable. I really wanted to get back on the field after that and prove that I can make those kind of kicks.”
Princeton was far from defeated however. On the ensuing possession, the Tigers drove deep into Cornell territory down to the 20 yard line. Fortunately for the Red, they moved backwards from there. After seeing his team called for a false start, holding on the offense, and a sack, Tiger coach Roger Hughes called for Northrop. The kicker, who has made his NFL ambitions public, walked to the 40 to attempt a 57 yard field goal.
Junior return man Vinny Bates waited in the end zone in case the kick was short, but as it sailed through the air, it was heading straight for the uprights. But it wasn’t quite long enough. It bounced off the crossbar and fell innocuously to the ground.
Hughes did not regret his decision: “He kicks 65 yarders in practice I thought with the wind, there’d be no problem.”
But he also acknowledged that the Tigers had shot themselves in the foot with costly and inopportune mistakes.
“We hurt ourselves again. We were in field goal range. We got a motion penalty then a holding penalty and then a little bit of a sack.”
The Cornell gridders turned in their most complete game this season thus far. Pendergast showered praise on all shoulders. Aside from 10 penalties assessed on the Red, offense and defense had better and more consistent showings than in the five previous games.
“All three sides of the ball contributed to this one,” Pendergast said. “We were able to control the ball, I thought very well. We were able to get the critical first downs when we had to get the critical first downs.
“[I’m] real proud of our defense, extremely proud of our defense. To give up one TD and shut them out in the second half — I can’t ask for anything more than that.”
Rahne agreed: “We knew if we could all come together for a game, we could win that game.”
Most important was the turnover ratio that was 3-0 in favor of the Red. Junior safety Jamie Moriarty recovered a fumble and got his second interception in two games. Senior linebacker Cory Ziskind caught Splithoff’s second interception with 1:34 to ensure a Cornell victory. All the improvements could be attributed to an increase of focus.
Simmons was more blunt in his sentiments. “We all just made the decision that we were all sick of losing,” he said.
Archived article by Amanda Angel