“This is a game of the utmost importance because it is the only one we have left this year,” football head coach Tim Pendergast said.
When Cornell steps onto Franklin Field to face Penn, it could very likely be the last time the Red’s seniors play a football game. And while the team will try to end the 15 seniors’ careers with a win and the Trustees Cup, that endeavor does not begin to describe many of the subplots brewing before this game.
Last year, the Quakers battled the Red on Schoellkopf Field in an unofficial conference championship game. With both teams having a 5-1 Ivy record the winner of the annual matchup was guaranteed first place. But it was Penn that carried the cup and the Ivy League title away from the year in the season closer, 45-15 that sent Cornell into the offseason doubting if it was even good enough to compete for the championship.
This year has less significance for the Red (2-6, 2-4 Ivy). Already assured its first losing Ivy record in the last three years, the team enters the contest with the goal of winning one for the graduating class, and avenging last year’s loss.
Penn (7-1, 5-1), on the other hand, is still in the hunt for a title. After losing to undefeated Harvard 28-21, last weekend, it could share first place if the Crimson loses to Yale, paired with a victory over Cornell.
“They still think they have a shot at the Ivy League title because of the Yale-Harvard game, so they’re going to come out fired up,” senior quarterback Ricky Rahne said. “But this is our last game so we’re not going to come out down. It should be a good game.”
Unfortunately for the Red, it will have to put together its best game of the year in order to beat the Quakers, as they one-up the Red in practically every statistical category. Although Rahne and Penn QB Gavin Hoffman’s numbers are similar (Hoffman’s completion rate is just a little higher), the Quakers, behind RB Kris Ryan (who already has 1152 rushing yards on the season), average 172.1 ground yards per game, almost 50 better than Cornell’s total.
On the other end, Penn has the best rushing defense in D-I AA giving up a meager 56.1, the Red has allowed over 200 per game.
Nevertheless, senior tailback Evan Simmons has had much success in his last three games, running for his a career-high 170 last weekend against Columbia. Simmons isn’t fazed, though.
“It’s just another challenge you look forward to, you’ve got to work for it. ” he said concerning the rushing game.
He also has personal rivalries on the line. “I know two guys that play defensive tackles, great guys. I like Penn it probably one of the funnest games we get to play during the season. Definitely one of the most physical — they’ve got great athlete.”
Judging form past experience Rahne knows the offense needs to use a balanced attack against the Quakers: “I think we still have to try to run the ball, we can’t just get away from it. We have to be efficient throwing the football, try to get them out of their main run defenses so we can run the ball after that.”
The D will also have its hands full with Ryan’s rushing and Hoffman’s passing. Hoffman, a transfer from Northwestern, has already passed for 7,278 yards in his two years as starter.
“They put up big numbers and everything, but if we play the defense we know how to play, and play mistake free we should be fine. They’re not invincible,” senior defensive tackle George Paraskevopoulos said.
Rahne has also been climbing up in the record books. He enters tomorrow’s game as the Ivy League’s third all-time passer with 7,439 yards. He needs another 411 yards to enter the No. 2 spot over Columbia’s John Witkowski.
The theme of the Cornell season thus far has been the changes incurred in Pendergast’s first year as coach. Each week has shown improvement, but Cornell would need to take a much bigger step than it has in all the former weeks to upset the returning Ivy League champions.
“We’re still learning a new offensive and defensive system. You know you can’t learn physics in three weeks time,” Pendergast said.
The last time Cornell visited Penn, it was able to send its seniors out on a win. Repeating that memory is in the minds of all the seniors and underclassmen alike.
“To go out as winners as seniors would be huge,” Rahne said. “I think it would make a lot of guys [happy]. And show everybody what our team is all about.
“All the seniors know that this is the last four quarters of football in their lives, but I except the juniors and sophomores to come out and play just as hard, so it should be a good effort.”
Archived article by Amanda Angel