November 4, 2002

Cornell Loses Lead, Game to Princeton

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The football team was a play away from a 31-yard field goal attempt which would have won the game, brought its Ivy record to 2-2, and vaulted it into a tie for third place in the conference.

Instead, Cornell (2-5, 1-3 Ivy) saw a resilient Princeton team (5-2, 3-1 Ivy) claw its way back from a 15-point fourth quarter deficit and then snatch away a victory in overtime by a 32-25 score in a snowy contest at Schoellkopf Field.

“We obviously didn’t finish the game the way we started,” said head coach Tim Pendergast.

After the Red built up a 25-10 lead entering the fourth quarter, the snow began to fall harder and cover the field. Meanwhile, the Tigers began to rack up big plays both in the air and on the ground to even the score at 25 with just under five minutes remaining in regulation.

The contest seemed destined to head to overtime when Cornell stopped a drive at the Princeton 43 with 40 seconds left, forcing the Tigers to punt. On Princeton’s punt attempt, though, long snapper Tim Releford botched the snap, and punter Joe Nardello attempted to run with the ball. He was forced out of bounds by junior Neil Morrissey at the Princeton 15-yard line with 24 seconds remaining.

Senior quarterback Mick Razzano first attempted a pass to junior John Kellner that fell incomplete, followed by a one-yard run by senior fullback Nate Archer. The Red then called its second timeout of the half with 16 seconds left.

Needing a field goal to win and facing a third-down situation from the 14-yard line on the right hashmark, Pendergast opted to take one last shot into the end zone instead of running the bbe/”to center it between the hashmarks and run down the clock for a 31-yard kick attempt.

“We were a little nervous about the field conditions. It was slick out there,” explained Pendergast. “We felt like we had one shot, so we’d take a shot at it, and if need be, we’d have to come back and kick the field goal.”

On the ensuing play, Razzano’s pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage. The ball then floated into the waiting hands of Tigers cornerback Jay McCareins, the Ivy League interceptions leader.

“People will say, ‘You should have just taken a knee.’ In hindsight, maybe they’re correct. But, we made the call, we’re going to live with it, and that’s all there is to it,” said Pendergast.

“Tim Pendergast is a hell of a coach, and he just didn’t become stupid on the last drive,” said Princeton head coach Roger Hughes. “It’s not the play call, it’s the execution of the play. Every play’s designed to score, and I think you and the media are very quick to criticize when a play doesn’t work … If he executes it correctly, it’s a touchdown and we’re not having this conversation about how we won the game.”

Cornell won the coin toss entering the overtime period and opted to start on defense. On the first play of overtime, senior lineman Jesse Rodriguez and sophomore linebacker Brad Kitlowski sacked Verbit for a nine-yard loss. Verbit quickly rebounded, completing passes of nine, 14, and 11 yards on the next three plays to reach the end zone for the go-ahead score.

The Red’s possession in overtime began with an 11-yard pass to Archer, putting Cornell in good position to even the score. However, the Tigers stopped a run, and then McCareins made an impressive play to bat away a pass to senior receiver Keith Ferguson. On third and 11, Razzano’s pass was again incomplete, but Princeton’s Joseph Weiss hit Razzano late. The penalty gave the Red a first and goal from the seven-yard line.

Runs for a two-yard loss and a two-yard gain set up a third and goal from the seven. Cornell took out its leading receivers, Ferguson and Kellner, opting instead for a two-tight end set. Razzano attempted a pass to junior receiver Vic Yanz that fell incomplete, although Archer was wide open on the left side on the play. On fourth down, Razzano faced a fierce rush led by Weiss and was forced to make a quick pass to Ferguson in the middle of the end zone. The pass went over Ferguson’s head, ending the game with the Tigers on top.

In the first quarter, Cornell scored both on a three-yard playaction run by Razzano and on a 32-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Trevor MacMeekin. Princeton also scored on a 23-yard reverse by wide receiver Chisom Opara.

The Tigers tied the game early in the second quarter on a 21-yard field goal by Derek Javarone. But the Red struck back, first on a safety when sophomore linebacker Paul Pardi sacked Verbit in the end zone. Then senior tailback Brian Ulbricht reached the end zone on a one-yard run. Finally, with 33 seconds left in the first half, Razzano connected with senior tight end Matt Wise on a six-yard touchdown pass. The two-point conversion on the play failed, giving Cornell 25 points at the half.

The Red’s defense played a strong game with the exception of the fourth quarter, reaching Verbit for five sacks and forcing three fumbles.

“Coming into this game, we felt that if we went out and executed the game plan, we could get pressure on the quarterback,” said lineman Pete Combe, who had 1.5 sacks. “The secondary helped a lot, because I know a lot of times he was forced to hang onto the ball more than he’d like to.”

In the game, Opara surpassed the career 2,000 receiving yard mark. Princeton back Cameron Atkinson, who scored the tying touchdown in the fourth quarter, also surpassed the 2,000 yard mark for rushing yards.

Verbit played a strong game, completing 20 of 34 attempts for 204 yards in place of Dave Splithoff, who missed the game with a shoulder injury.

The Tiger win snapped a three-game losing streak to the Red. It was also the first time Princeton had won at Schoellkopf Field since 1992.

“It’s hard to put this one in words,” summarized Pendergast. “It’s a difficult loss, a very difficult loss. But we all, players, coaches, have to simply regroup and come back at it next week.”

Archived article by Alex Fineman