November 18, 2002

Cornell Overcomes Late Deficit, Weather to Defeat Columbia

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NEW YORK, N.Y. — The football team has seen it happen before. The Red (4-5, 3-3 Ivy) has taken a lead into the fourth quarter and seen it slip away. But it’s also battled back in the fourth quarter to win a football game. On Saturday, Cornell saw both events happen — and this time, it was the Red on top of Columbia (1-8, 0-6) at the end of the contest, 17-14.

“It’s not always just rolling over your opponent that wins games,” said head coach Tim Pendergast. “Sometimes you have to come from behind. Sometimes you have to hang on at the end.”

Red senior quarterback Mick Razzano picked the best time to uncork his longest pass of the season, as it saved Cornell’s last drive and led to the winning touchdown before a last-second Lions field goal attempt missed the mark.

The win brought Cornell’s record to .500 in the Ivy League, a mark that the Red hasn’t seen since the 2000 season.

The weather, as it has been for many of Cornell’s games this season, was a factor again, as the rain and wind at Wien Stadium in Manhattan played havoc with both teams’ kicking and passing games. The Red picked up only 109 yards through the air, while the Lions only threw for 185. Both teams turned the ball over twice — Cornell on a pair of fumbles and Columbia on two interceptions.

“A lot of it was into the wind and the rain, and it was tough throwing the ball, especially at the beginning of the third quarter,” said Lions head coach Ray Tellier. “You saw that ball fluttering out there.”

At halftime, the game was a typical bad weather, low-scoring affair. The Lions led, 7-3, and the only scores in the first half were a 12-yard run by Columbia quarterback Steve Hunsberger and a 23-yard field goal by Red sophomore kicker Trevor MacMeekin.

Realizing that the passing games weren’t producing, both teams began to press the run more in the second half. The move paid off for Cornell, as a nine-yard touchdown run by sophomore tailback Marcus Blanks in the third quarter gave Cornell a 10-7 lead.

“We felt good about where we were with the run game in the second half,” said Pendergast. “If something’s going, don’t stop. And it was going for us.”

Entering the fourth quarter, Cornell was clinging to that 10-7 score and had just taken possession of the ball at the Lions 44 yard line after a tipped punt went only four yards. The Red was in prime position to add to its lead when Blanks fumbled the ball at the 12 yard line.

Columbia then turned around and marched down the field on a 17-play, 89-yard drive that chewed up nearly nine minutes of clock. More importantly, though, it resulted in a Rashad Biggers touchdown run that put the Lions up, 14-10, with only 3:17 to go. Biggers, who had 28 carries in the game, carried the ball eight times on the drive.

“Twenty-eight carries is a little shock, but it was kind of slippery conditions out there, so it was in our best interests to kind of pound it out,” said Biggers.

Needing a touchdown to reclaim the lead, Razzano, who was 6-for-15 with only 52 passing yards up to that point, set out to lead his team downfield from the Cornell 28. Only a few plays later, though, he faced a fourth and 17 from his own 34. Razzano then reached back and completed a 44-yard bomb — his longest of the year — to junior receiver John Kellner between the hashmarks at the Columbia 22 yard line. From there, it took six plays before Razzano connected with Kellner again, this time for the go-ahead touchdown with 25 seconds left.

On the following kickoff, though, MacMeekin flubbed an attempt to squib the kick and gave the Lions the ball at the 50 yard line. Hunsberger completed two passes to Dan Reed to move the Lions to the Red 24.

From there it was up to kicker Nick Rudd to send the game into overtime. Rudd had already missed a field goal earlier in the game, when a 32-yard attempt was knocked down by a stiff wind and fell short. This time, the wind was at his back for a 41-yard attempt. Long snapper Chris Carey, who was playing in his first game back from injury, snapped the ball high, and holder Paul Santiago was unable to spot the ball well for Rudd. Rudd subsequently sent the ball spinning off to the right as time ticked off the clock, giving Cornell the victory.

The win was the Red’s third in its last four games, a big turnaround since the halfway point of the season when it was 1-4 overall and 0-2 in the conference. Cornell was outscored in those two conference losses to Yale and Harvard by a combined score of 102-46. Pendergast praised his charges for maintaining their focus after those early-season blowouts to bounce back in recent weeks.

“The character we’ve displayed over the last four weeks — and I should say since Bucknell, back on September 23 — has been great,” he said. “We could have folded at any time; we had two games early in the season giving up 50 points to Harvard and Yale. We didn’t. What matters at the end of the day is whether or not you got that win.”

The Red will try to build on its recent success in its last game of the season next Saturday when it hosts Penn with a chance to even its season record.

Archived article by Alex Fineman