Five down, five to go.
That’s where the Cornell football team stands today. It is the halfway mark of an eventful and increasingly enigmatic 2002 campaign for head coach Tim Pendergast and his team.
After Saturday’s 42-13 loss at the hands of Colgate, the Red is 1-4 and still searching for answers to questions that have plagued the team all season.
“We’ve dug ourselves a little bit of a hole, but I’m very very proud of these guys, this team,” said Pendergast of his team’s first half effort, “one of the things they do consistently is they keep trying.”
Throughout its first five contests, the Red has shown a resiliency that allows the team to be in every game it has played. Unfortunately, the team’s consistent effort has not been coupled with nor complemented by consistent execution.
Cornell’s most nagging problem has been a lack of competitiveness in the second half. Opponents have outscored the Red 95-29 after halftime, prompting Pendergast to lament this week that he wished the NCAA would eliminate halftime.
In Cornell’s lone victory of the year, at home on Oct. 5 against Towson, it allowed the Tigers to overcome a 24-point deficit late in the third quarter to force an overtime period the Red would eventually win.
Two weeks ago, the Red was well on its way to possibly upsetting first place Harvard until being outscored 28-6 in the second half to lose 52-23.
One apparent cause of the late-game letdowns that plague Cornell are the adjustments teams’ offenses have been able to make to neutralize the Red’s defensive gameplan after halftime.
On Saturday, the breakdown came earlier as Cornell entered halftime down by three touchdowns, 28-7. The frustration out of the break was apparent as Cornell was only able to muster a single score in the third and fourth quarters.
Pendergast has often voiced his frustration for the problem and is quick to place the blame on himself.
“Guys are trying to do it the right way, but we just don’t do it,” he said. “Point the fingers right here. All the mess you see out there, point it right here,” he continued gesturing toward himself.
One high point for the Red has been the play of its offense which has gained over 300 total yards in all but two games — against Yale and Bucknell — this season. Senior quarterback Mick Razzano has created an consistent rhythm with junior John Kellner and senior record-chaser Keith Ferguson, creating a potent aerial attack that has garnered just under 700 yards this season.
The tailback “controversy” between sophomore Marcus Blanks and senior Brian Ulbricht has inspired each of the combatants to run for career days on two separate occasions.
However, the balance Cornell has been able to foster on offense has not translated into a winning formula.
“Our offense has been able to move the ball in most games,” Razzano said a week ago, “but it means nothing if you can’t put up more points than the other guys.”
The Red has also proven that it can bounce back from adversity, beating a tough Towson squad a week after its most demoralizing loss of the season against Yale on Sept. 28.
It is this fact that most prominently provides the Red with hope for the second half of its season.
“The team’s already proven that it can rebound after a loss,” said senior captain and star fullback Nate Archer after Saturday’s loss, “we have 24 hours to get this game out of our system. We’re going to learn from our mistakes, we always do.”
With an entire half of his season remaining, Pendergast retains the faith that he has held in his team since coming to East Hill last year. He also retains an intense focus on this season rather than looking ahead to 2003 and writing this year off as a rebuilding campaign.
“To me, we have the same goal as we have had every game — win your next game. That’s where we have to start. A team that is trying to progress, to build can’t start with huge goals in mind,” he concluded, “you have to start with something that is relatively achievable. We control our own destiny, and it starts right now.”
The Red will finish its season with five consecutive Ivy League contests. This weekend Cornell heads to Brown, followed by two home bouts with Princeton and Dartmouth. The team then heads to Columbia and finishes its year on Schoellkopf against Penn.
Archived article by Scott Jones