The football team’s (1-2, 0-1 Ivy) uniforms were the same, but the squad that wore them on Saturday against Towson (3-2, 1-1 Patriot) was a completely different one from the one that suited up last weekend against Yale.
Head coach Tim Pendergast’s up-tempo practices last week transformed a team that was shellacked by the Bulldogs, 50-23, to an efficient offensive and defensive machine that beat a touted Tiger team, 34-31 in double overtime.
“Every guy on this team wanted to prove that we were better than we played last week,” said senior tailback Brian Ulbricht. “And we were in the locker room, we had so much pride about ourselves, and we just wanted to let everyone know that we could do it.”
“We beat a damn good team today, so that makes us a damn good team today, or a damn better team today,” said Pendergast.
Before the contest even made it to extra frames, though, the Red ran up a 24-0 lead late in the third quarter against a team with the seventh-ranked offense in Division I-AA. Cornell then watched as Towson rallied back with three touchdown passes and a field goal in the final 15 minutes to send the game into an unexpected overtime.
Both teams scored touchdowns on one-yard runs in their first overtime opportunities. Senior fullback Nate Archer struck for the Red, and freshman running back Kerry Miles responded for the Tigers. Then, after the Cornell defense forced Towson to attempt a 24-yard field goal, sophomore linebacker Joel Sussman blocked senior kicker Ben Whitacre’s attempt, Sussman’s second blocked field goal in as many games.
“I realized that he was kicking just inside the left goalpost the entire time, and once I made the adjustment, then that was all there was to it,” said Sussman.
The Red then moved the ball to the one-yard line before sophomore kicker Trevor MacMeekin sent the ball through the uprights for Cornell’s first win of the season.
“Offense and defense just made my job easy,” said MacMeekin. “It’s something I’ve done 100 times. And that was just like an extra point — not even an extra point.”
The contest began right where the Yale game left off. The Red started with the ball and promptly produced a three-and-out, including a sack of senior quarterback Mick Razzano. Then, after senior Pete Combe sacked Tigers junior quarterback Jay Amer, Towson began to march smoothly down the field. But that’s where the similarity to last week’s contest ended.
Senior safety Jamie Moriarty intercepted a pass at the Cornell nine and returned it for 30 yards. The ensuing drive saw three different Red players carry the ball successfully, and Razzano complete both of his passes. Ulbricht, filling in for injured sophomore Marcus Blanks, capped off the drive with a seven-yard touchdown run to put the Red up 7-0.
Cornell put together another strong drive midway through the first half in which the Red produced first down after first down. The drive stalled, though, as senior receiver John Kellner dropped a pass in the end zone on third down and the Red had to settle for a MacMeekin field goal.
Cornell strung together one last drive at the end of the half. After starting at its own six, Ulbricht took off on a 48-yard run. Then, Razzano spiked the ball to stop the clock with seven seconds left at the one. Having no timeouts left, Pendergast opted to go for a touchdown instead of a field goal. Razzano couldn’t find a receiver and tried to scramble for the score, but came up just short of the end zone as time ticked off the clock.
At the halfway point, Cornell led 10-0, a surprise in itself considering the teams’ performances so far this season. The most impressive part of the half, though, was the Red’s dominance of the line of scrimmage. On the defensive side of the ball, Cornell was able to sack Amer five times in the first half.
“I would really like to attribute that to the defensive line going all out,” said senior captain Nate Spitler. “We knew that they were going to pass on us; they have some athletic players on their team. What it comes down to is coverage. No one was open.”
Meanwhile, the offensive line provided Razzano with plenty of protection and Ulbricht with solid blocks. At the half, Ulbricht had 106 yards rushing.
The Red continued its strong play at the outset of the second half, as the defense forced a three-and-out and then Ulbricht and Archer took over on offense. Ulbricht contributed a 29-yard run on the drive, and Archer caught a six-yard Razzano playaction pass for the score, putting Cornell up 17-0.
On the second play of the Tigers’ responding drive, senior linebacker Jarad Madea hit Amer as he was throwing. The result was a floating pass that sophomore linebacker Dan Collins intercepted at the Towson 47. From there, Razzano and Archer worked on a drive which ended in an Archer touchdown run, giving the Red a stunning 24-0 lead with 4:37 left in the third quarter.
The Tigers refused to roll over, though. As time was winding down in the quarter, Amer threw an incomplete pass from the Cornell 47 on second-and-18. A roughing-the-passer penalty on Combe gave Towson a second chance on the play, this time from the 32, and Amer took advantage of it, finding senior receiver Brandon White in the end zone to finally put the Tigers on the scoreboard.
3:38 later, Towson reached the Cornell 11 and was faced with a fourth-and-one. Tigers head coach Gordy Combs opted to go for it, but an Amer keeper was stuffed by Combe and Sussman.
“I thought we could get it in,” said Combs. “[Cornell] came up with a big play there.”
But Towson struck again at 7:51, after a short punt by sophomore Mike Baumgartel gave the Tigers the ball at the Red 28. Amer was able to bring his team to the six-yard line, and Whitacre connected on a 22-yard field goal, making the score 24-10. On Towson’s next drive, Amer managed to finish the job, moving his team 56 yards for a touchdown that brought the Tigers within one score.
That score came on Towson’s next possession. After Cornell went three-and-out, the Tigers took over on their own 46. A false start sent them back to the 41, but on the first and only play of the drive, Amer got the Red secondary to fall hard for a pump fake. Sophomore receiver James Byroads was wide open along the right sideline, where he caught a 59-yard strike to send the game into overtime.
“We ran that rocket screen quite a few times, and coach said they were biting on it,” said Amer. “And when it came down, Byroads was wide open, and all I wanted to do was not overthrow him.”
Amer played a strong game, especially in the second half, when he had 182 of his 271 passing yards.
The contest was only the fourth overtime game in Cornell history and the second double overtime game. The Red also won the other one, a 41-34 victory over Lafayette in 1997.
A few personal and team records were set in the game. Ulbricht’s final total of 164 rushing yards was a personal best, as were Razzano’s 166 passing yards. Razzano also ran for 57 yards, contributing to the team total of 275, only the third 200-yard rushing effort for the Red since 1998. For Towson, White’s reception in the first overtime gave him enough to match the school record for career catches. White had a game-high 85 receiving yards in the contest.
Pendergast was more than happy to give credit for the win to his players and assistant coaches.
“You need to talk to these guys, you need to talk to the assistant coaches, they’re the ones who did it. None of them, coaches or players ever lost focus. Bleak as last Saturday was, this is the exact opposite,” he said.
He was also confident t
hat this would be only the first of a number of victories this season.
“These players are unbelievable, and there’s going to be more wins.”
Archived article by Alex Fineman