Penn dashed Cornell’s chance of breaking even on the season as it completed an undefeated Ivy League season and won the conference title on Schoellkopf Field Saturday afternoon. The Quakers broke through the defense-dominated game to score 24 fourth-quarter points for the 31-0 victory.
The Ivy League championship trophy was in Bartels Hall on Saturday and was awarded to Penn (9-1, 7-0 Ivy) in its locker room following the game.
“I don’t think the kids understand how hard it is,” Penn coach Al Bagnoli said of his team’s undefeated Ivy season. “It hasn’t been done very often in the history of the league.
“If you can survive in this league and go unbeaten and do it with the margin of victory that we had, I just think it’s a special season, a special group of people and I just couldn’t be happier… .”
Penn benefited from good field position and a six minute advantage in time of possession in the second half to gradually wear away at the Red defense, which had stopped several Quaker drives through the first 45 minutes. Meanwhile the Penn defense allowed Cornell, which had lost senior quarterback Mick Razzano to a concussion, 53 total yards after intermission.
Cornell’s longest drive was the first of the game. After the Quakers won the coin toss and deferred choosing to the second half, Cornell began the game at its own 19. Two plays later, Razzano threw a screen to sophomore receiver Chad Nice, who ran most of the 43 yards to the Pennsylvania 34. Two plays and a pass to sophomore receiver John Kellner later, the Red was in the red zone.
Stephen Faulk, who plays tailback and cornerback, intercepted a pass at his own 16 yard line, ending Cornell’s best scoring chance all day. The Quakers proceeded to march down the field, but Cornell made a defensive stand at its own 15. After three rushing plays couldn’t get the first down, Bagnoli decided to go for it on fourth and one. Quarterback Mike Mitchell couldn’t handle the snap and fumbled. The ball was kicked forward and recovered by the left tackle, Chris Kupchik, and gave the Red and Blue a first down at the Cornell 12-yard line.
Mitchell then found receiver Rob Milanese on third down, in the end zone, on the left sideline. He lofted a pass, and Milanese pulled it down from behind senior cornerback Vinny Bates for Penn’s first seven points.
Things would only get worse for Cornell on its next drive, as Razzano would suffer a hit to the head during one of his scrambles. Before that happened, Cornell was given a break as it faced a third and sixth situation. Vince Alexander recovered a Razzano fumble, only to lose the ball himself, and Razzano jumped on top of it. It gave the Red a new set of downs, but the team punted at its 41-yard line.
He would return for the next drive but was pulled when the coaching staff noticed that he had been hurt.
“He continued to play, tried very valiantly to play, but he wasn’t right. We weren’t going to allow it to happen once we knew he was really hurt,” said head coach Tim Pendergast.
Freshman Ryan Kuhn, who hadn’t had a snap in his collegiate career, took over the offense. The Red grew more reliant upon the success of its running attack against the best rushing defense in D I-AA.
“We were still very confident. The O-line knew what they would have to do, they knew that they would have to take the game on their shoulders and they’d have to establish a really good running attack,” explained senior co-captain Nate Archer.
The defense answered its call to duty as it held Penn scoreless in six consecutive drives. Sophomore Kyle Thomas had an interception that would have put Penn 10 yards outside of the end zone. Kicker Peter Veldman also missed two field goal attempts in the second quarter from 31 and 41 yards out.
“We were somewhat frustrated early. We seemed to make some positive yardage in between the 20s, but for whatever reason we couldn’t finish the deal,” Bagnoli said.
“Our defense in the remainder of the first half and even into the third quarter, they played their hearts out. I think eventually, when we just weren’t able to move the football it wore our defense down,” Pendergast said.
Six of Cornell’s eight first downs came in the first half.
The third quarter was another defensive battle, but the Penn offense came alive in the fourth quarter as its average starting possession was at the Cornell 38-yard line.
“Sooner or later we started taking control of the game and it started defensively and just kept turning the ball back over to the offense,” said Bagnoli.
Faulk had two and one yard runs for touchdowns with 13:04 and 6:36 left in the game, respectively. Mitchell also scored on a quarterback sneak in between the two Faulk scores.
“We got our backs put against the wall a few times. There wasn’t any one thing that changed, things just didn’t go our way,” said senior co-captain Nate Spitler.
Junior Neil Morrissey had his first interception of the year in the Penn end zone to give Cornell life, but the offense could not move the ball. Kuhn and sophomore Gabe Newell, who took his first snaps of the year in the fourth quarter, completed a combined 8 of 19 throws with three interceptions.
Senior wideout Keith Ferguson also had four grabs, three on Cornell’s final drive of the game, to give him 202 career receptions. He is the first Cornellian to eclipse the 200-reception mark and is the seventh Ivy Leaguer to do so.
Veldman added to the 28-0 lead with a 31-yard field goal with 2:35 remaining. Milanese was a star for the Quakers, making 15 catches for 172.
“I think it was a conspiracy to get the ball to the seniors,” Bagnoli quipped. “Robby’s always been the focal point of what we’re trying to do. He’s our all-time leading receiver in virtually every category.
It was the first time that Cornell had been shut out since its season opener at the new Princeton Stadium in 1998. However, this season has been a large improvement over last year’s team that went 2-7 overall (2-5 Ivy).
“I believe in my heart that we’re closer to the University of Pennsylvania than 31-0,” Pendergast said.
“It wasn’t an easy year; obviously we had highs and lows, but this Cornell University team of 2002 can be known as a team that never quit, played with a hell of a lot of character,” he finished.
Archived article by Amanda Angel