Cue the emotionally charged music, it’s time for some action.
As the chorus reaches a drum-charged climax, the 2002 new-look Cornell football team storms the Christy Matthewson Memorial Stadium field at Patriot League rival Bucknell.
This will be the scene tomorrow night at 7 p.m. as the Red heads into game one of its season.
“We’re obviously very excited, we’ve had some great practices recently. The overall enthusiasm of the team has just skyrocketed. We’ve been doing this practice thing for so long now that we finally have something to look forward to this weekend,” said senior captain fullback Nate Archer.
What Cornell is looking forward to most are answers to the many questions surrounding this year’s squad. Cornell is a young team, boasting just 31 upperclassmen heading into Saturday’s contest which leads many to question the team’s potential. There are also ongoing position battles at quarterback, halfback, special teams, and even on the offensive line. That’s not to mention several other question marks in the many rotations Cornell uses on both sides of the ball.
“We just want to get out there and see what we’re all about,” said senior defensive tackle Bill Goodrich.
The mirror with which Cornell will view itself is a formidable opponent. Though Bucknell is currently 0-2, having lost its first two contests against Duquesne and St. Mary’s, the early mark can be deceiving.
Bucknell’s defense was fifth-best in the nation last season and is giving up 25 yards less per game in 2002 than a year ago. Its offense has also improved, having totaled more first downs and total yards than its opponent in both of the Bison’s losing efforts.
“They’re a team that lies about their 0-2 record.” said head coach Tim Pendergast. “They’re a very good football team, and they’ve had their share of bad luck over the first two games.”
That bad luck included a waived off field goal at the end of last week’s double overtime loss to St. Mary’s. The questionable call came just moments after the Bucknell players had stormed the field in celebration. The week before had seen an overmatched Duquesne team sneak off with a victory on the strength of a myriad of Bucknell mental mistakes, penalties, and turnovers.
The Bison’s potent defense is led by the scary trio of senior nose tackle Adam Lord, classmate linebacker Joe Massey, and sophomore linebacker Stephane Pluviose. Lord was named the Patriot League Preseason Defensive Player of the Year in July while Massey was most recently named Patriot League Player of the Week after his 11 tackle effort last Saturday. Having racked up 42 tackles in 10 games last year, Lord was also Bucknell’s lone All-American and team MVP.
Pendergast and Co. are aware of the Bison’s defensive prowess and are giving it due respect.
“This may be one of, if not the, best defense we’ll play all year,” said Pendergast.
On offense, Bucknell is led by senior quarterback Todd Wenrich. The Bison play a fairly balanced offense as far as attempts are concerned but depend on their aerial assault for most of their yards. Senior wideout Jim Horan — a first team Patriot League selection a year ago — and junior Albert Marquardt are Wenrich’s preferred targets. Bucknell’s rushing game has struggled to date with junior running back Jess Brinson garnering most of the carries.
Cornell’s biggest concerns heading into tomorrow’s match up are typical of a team that has yet to take the field of play. However, Pendergast is preaching a sense of preparedness to his players that should solve some of his team’s pre-game jitters.
“We’re taking this game in midseason form. We’re not talking much about this being our first game. Rather, we’re talking about playing in mid or late season form,” he said.
Pendergast does not ignore his players’ anxiety heading into their first game of 2002. However, he thinks that such pressure should be present on a year long basis, not just week one.
“I hope that all 62 players have jitters, but I hope that they have jitters on week 5, 8, 10. They should have jitters that means that they’re ready that means they’re focused.”
Though the Cornell mindset may be more indicative of the mid-season, its questions remain those of an untested unit. Senior quarterback Mick Razzano will lead the Red offense on Saturday knowing that he could be replaced by junior D.J. Busch on any given drive. Sophomore tailback Marcus Blanks will also be playing with a certain amount of urgency as senior counterpart Brian Ulbricht will be waiting on the sidelines to take Blanks’ spot at a moment’s notice. Much of Cornell’s lineup is characterized by a revolving door-style rotation, but the battles that have shaped many of the skill positions in the offseason remain uncertainties heading into tomorrow night.
Regardless of the air of doubt surrounding the Red, the team is charged up for its first taste of competition. Bucknell is a team that beat Cornell two seasons ago by a score of 38-15, dominating on both sides of the ball throughout. The defeat has only added fuel to Cornell’s fire leading into this year’s game.
“I remember the game two years ago very well. It was the first game I played in for Cornell and it hurt bad to lose,” said Archer, “we’re hoping [tomorrow] will provide us a better result, and we’re all psyched for that opportunity.”
Maybe Pendergast said it best when he described his team’s attitude heading to Bucknell.
“We’re ready to roll,” he concluded.
As the music fades out, the Red line up for the very first play of its season. It is then that all the talking will stop, and the Red will finally get down to its more preferred business of action.
Archived article by Scott Jones