A football season that began on the wrong foot but has lately been characterized by gritty wins comes to its end tomorrow, when the Red (4-5, 3-3 Ivy) hosts Penn (8-1, 6-0) at Schoellkopf Field at 1 p.m.
The Quakers will be out to reclaim the outright Ivy League crown, which they last won in 2000 but lost last year to Harvard. With last week’s 44-9 win over the Crimson, Penn guaranteed itself at least a share of the title.
The Quakers’ dominance of the Ancient Eight this year doesn’t seem to faze Cornell, though.
“We know that the University of Pennsylvania is an excellent football team, but it doesn’t scare us at all,” said head coach Tim Pendergast. “As a matter of fact, maybe it motivates us even more because we have an opportunity to play against the best.”
Cornell certainly doesn’t have fond memories of the last time the Quakers won the conference championship.
Flash back to the season finale two years ago, when these two teams met at Schoellkopf with the title on the line. Penn’s Kris Ryan ran for 243 yards and four touchdowns en route to a 45-15 win, taking the Ivy crown from the Red’s grasp. The Cornellians on the field that day still hold a grudge against the Quakers.
“We all remember that game,” said senior wide receiver Keith Ferguson. “The paper the next day said, ‘Toast.’ I still have that paper.”
A Red win tomorrow coupled with a Harvard win against Yale would take away Penn’s outright Ivy title, and Cornell is relishing the idea of playing the role of spoiler against the team that took their title two years ago.
“It’s a little something extra to play for when you know you could ruin their outright championship,” said quarterback Mick Razzano.
In last year’s clash between the two squads at Philadelphia’s Franklin Field, the Red raced out to a 14-0 lead after the first quarter and then was stopped dead in its tracks as the Quakers went on to score 38 unanswered points to win the Trustees’ Cup, which is given to the winner of the Cornell-Penn game yearly. The Red last held the Trustees’ Cup in 1999.
Cornell will be tested tomorrow by one of the best rushing defenses in league history. Penn is allowing an average of just 58 yards on the ground per game this season and is on pace to set the Ivy record in that statistic.
“I think one of the main things is Penn’s defense has been able to make teams go three and out, punt the ball, and have its offense get good field position,” said Razzano. “What we don’t want to do is go three and out. We want to get some things moving, drive the ball downfield. Hopefully, if everything goes right, we’ll be the ones working with the short field.”
Razzano was able to piece together a crucial drive last weekend that lifted his team to a thrilling win in the rain at Columbia. Late in the game, Razzano found junior receiver John Kellner for a 44-yard reception on fourth and 17, and then connected with Kellner later for the winning score in the final minute.
Kellner, along with sophomore tailback Marcus Blanks and senior linebacker Nate Spitler, was named to the Ivy honor roll for their efforts in the victory.
That win against the Lions, as well as other recent wins, has helped turn the Red’s season around. After starting the 2002 slate 1-4, Cornell has won three of its last four contests, with the one loss coming to Princeton in overtime.
“The thing that we’re doing is we’re learning the various ways to win the game,” observed Pendergast.
The recent momentum has given the Red the opportunity to finish its season with a conference record above .500. A win tomorrow will accomplish just that, as well as ensuring Cornell with either a third or fourth-place finish in the Ivy standings.
“We didn’t have the greatest season, but you always want to win more than you lost and do okay,” said Ferguson. “That would make us finish around number three in the league, and we were picked to be eighth or seventh. So it would definitely mean a lot.”
For the 16 seniors on the Red, tomorrow’s game will mark their last appearance in a Cornell uniform, and they will be honored with an on-field ceremony.
Archived article by Alex Fineman