November 16, 2001

On Payback: Bad Blood in the Ivies

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During the 1999 and 2000 football seasons, the Red had its sights set on an Ivy League title, falling one win short of that goal each year. In this, a season of building toward consistency and success in the future, the Red enters its final game beyond the reach of a championship.

For seniors playing in their final game for Cornell, however, the Penn game tomorrow represents an opportunity to avenge last season’s home defeat that clinched the title for the Quakers. A Cornell win at Franklin Field would eliminate Penn’s chances of repeating as Ivy League champs.

“They’re still in contention, so we’d like to reciprocate what they did to us last year,” said senior defensive lineman George Paraskevopoulos.

For many who were on the field last year, the only silver lining after losing to Penn — especially when it’s at home with a championship on the line — is the assurance that the teams will meet again next year.

That next meeting is tomorrow when the Red gets another shot at the Quakers, victors in a 45-15 route that clinched the 2000 Ivy trophy and quashed Cornell’s hope for a first-ever outright championship.

“You can throw our records out. We definitely are planing on upsetting them,” Paraskevopoulos said.

Following Saturday’s match-up, you can forget all the analysis that sports journalists have compiled this season to decipher what occurred between each kickoff and when the clock struck 00:00. You can get the whole story by peeking into the post-game press conference or team locker rooms and see who’s smiling.

“You want to try to get revenge from last year, but it is also our last game. We want to go out on a good note,” said senior quarterback Ricky Rahne.

Of course, if you were at Schoellkopf Field a year ago on Saturday, you would have seen the Quakers dancing along the sidelines throughout a one-sided title game. Penn essentially took the championship by half-time, already having built a lead the Comeback Kids would not surmount.

That sobering defeat halted short a team that seemed to have destiny on its side. A 28-point comeback against Harvard (finished off with a blocked punt), a winning touchdown with 44 seconds remaining against Columbia, a missed field goal by Yale that sealed a Homecoming thriller for Cornell. Take your pick.

And it was all routine after an improbable 5-2 Ivy League record in 1999 that would have produced a title if not for a narrow defeat one rainy day at Dartmouth.

Ten victories in two years, all veritable upsets — if not miracles — given the circumstances, and a lot of bad blood is astir in the Ivies.

So much, in fact, that one game may have overshadowed some of the goals for the entire season.

“If people were marking this [game against Penn] on the calendar, they were doing the wrong thing and that’s something we’re going to have to change around here,” said head coach Tim Pendergast.

“Practice in September should have been on Bucknell and Yale more and not looking at [Penn]. This game is of no importance unless you take care of the rest of games,” he said.

His eyes now turned to the future, Pendergast received a rude welcome into the league prior to the season during a media event at the Yale Golf Course. By association with the Red, Pendergast drew the ire of a league with no fewer than seven teams waiting to redress stunning losses still fresh in their minds.

Leaving Ithaca after a one-point loss last year, Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki warned his team not to look back too closely upon that one game. Still, some couldn’t help but hearken a year back in this season’s Ivy opener. While Yale has struggled more than in years past, the Elis emerged from the rematch against Cornell with a 40-13 victory.

“You can’t let one game or one loss affect the next nine. That’s the reality of competing every week,” Siedlecki said. “Sometimes you can do that, and sometimes you can’t.”

Like Yale, Harvard and Brown returned the favor this season to the Red — which had beaten each of those teams on the road during their Homecoming games. But revenge was especially sweet last week for Columbia running back Johnathan Reese.

Reese scored twice late in the game last week to seal the victory for Columbia after the Lions ran out of time on the Cornell goalline a year ago, hoping for one play to win that game.

“We really should have won that game,” Reese said.

Now, with one game remaining in the 2001 campaign, it is the Red’s turn to even the score in a rivalry that is one of the most storied in college football. The game marks the 108th meeting between the teams, but few will have to look beyond last year to find the motivation to come out on top.

Just ask George Paraskevopoulos.

Archived article by Matthew Hirsch