NEW YORK, N.Y. — John Elway’s entire Hall of Fame career is still defined by a single moment. Now Cornell senior quarterback Mick Razzano has his own moment that will define his 2002 season for years to come. In each case, that moment is a single drive.
Elway’s came in the fourth quarter of the 1987 AFC championship game against the Cleveland Browns. Razzano’s came on Saturday at Columbia.
With three minutes left in this weekend’s game, the Red (4-5, 3-3 Ivy) found itself down 14-10 to a scrappy Columbia team (1-8, 0-6) that just wouldn’t die. At the mercy of gale force winds and driving rain, neither offensive could move the ball for much of the first three quarters.
Razzano had particularly struggled, completing just five of 14 passes for a total of 39 yards heading into the final quarter. His favorite target, senior wideout Keith Ferguson, had only been able to pull in three passes, while junior John Kellner had a single catch of eight yards.
Thus, when the Cornell offense was given the ball on its own 28 yard line with 3:07 on the clock and a four point deficit to overcome, the task looked more than formidable.
“I think I was about due for executing a play well because the first three quarters, I hadn’t done anything. It was a hell of a time to start,” said Razzano of his mindset heading into the drive.
On Cornell’s first play from scrimmage, the fourth quarter jinx almost reared its head, as Razzano threw a ball behind Ferguson that just trickled through the able hands of Columbia safety Philip Murray.
“I broke down on the pass just a little late and [Ferguson] got just enough of it to knock it away. I’ve caught harder balls than that, the game should’ve been over,” said Murray, who is tied for the all-time career interceptions record at Columbia.
With its first brush with defeat avoided, Cornell went to work on its game-winning drive. Senior running back Brian Ulbricht ran up the middle for seven yards on second down and Razzano completed a six yard dump off to Ferguson on the next play for a first down.
After an Ulbricht run for a single yard and an incomplete pass to Kellner, the Red seemingly suffered the daunting nail in its coffin on the ensuing third down set. Razzano had been hurried all afternoon by Columbia’s overpowering defensive line, and with 1:45 left, the Lions seemed to accent their victory in the trenches with a Jeff Roether sack. The eight yard loss set up a seemingly impossible fourth down and 17 situation for the Red. Cornell coach Tim Pendergast was forced to call a defining timeout.
“We thought it was wrapped up at that point, they hadn’t been able to move the ball in the second and 70 yards was a long way to go,” said Murray of his team’s attitude during the timeout.
With the game on the line and an execute or be exectued play at hand, both sides of the stadium rose to their feet. The Cornell fans, who nearly outnumbered the scant Columbia crowd, rose to a crescendo as the Red players took the field.
The Red set up three receivers to Razzano’s left and a single wideout on the opposite side of the field. Columbia was playing a four-man prevent with Murray roaming the middle.
“We knew we had a shot at it before we even lined up because of the way the two safeties were set up. If Mick could look off the safeties, it was just a matter of beating the middle linebacker,” said Kellner of his expectations heading into the play.
The subsequent, defining moment saw Razzano connect on his longest pass of the year over the middle to a wide open Kellner. Kellner split the defense and found a seam in the secondary, released straight up the middle of the field, and made the catch over his right shoulder. After regaining his balance, Kellner landed on Columbia’s 22-yard line. It was a 44-yard completion.
“I was making the read, but in the back of my mind I was tellling myself that they wouldn’t want Keith [Ferguson] running down the field alone. I was watching the safety, and I noticed he was watching Keith. Then I saw John running down the middle wide open, and I just threw it up and hoped he’d get there,” said Razzano.
After an incomplete pass and another Ulbricht trample, this time for seven yards, another important third down situation faced the Red. And once again it was Razzano who stepped up. After exhausting his throwing options, Razzano ran for eight tough yards on third and three, popped to his feet, and called a timeout with 30 ticks left on the scoreboard.
Razzano, now working from the seven yard line, took a chance at the end zone on the ensuing first down, but the bullet went through the flailing arms of junior Chad Nice. Razzano’s next chance would not be missed.
Once again, it was Razzano and Kellner who connected. Kellner ran a quick post pattern toward the middle of the end zone and Razzano put the ball in the only catchable place for him. Kellner garnered the football and, after a successful extra point attempt, Cornell had itself a 17-14 lead with 25 seconds left on the clock.
Cornell eventually won the game and Razzano had himself a tried and true story for the ages.
Twelve plays for 72 yards over the span of just two minutes and 40 seconds. A 44-yard bomb on fourth and 17, an all-important eight yard scramble on third and three, and a seven yard dart to win the game with 25 seconds left on the clock. It was Elway-esque and the highlight of the Red’s season.
Archived article by Scott Jones