December 6, 2002

Football Ready to Take the Next Step

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It’s been two and a half weeks since the men’s football team closed its season, but you’d never know how recently it ended from the silence around Schoellkopf Hall. The buzz of the 2002 football season has subsided leaving a fifth-place Ivy League record, a few broken records, nine All-Ivy selections and speculations how the Red will do in 2003 in its wake.

Overall, the season was a mixed bag for head coach Tim Pendergast and his team. The team improved statistically in practically every area except pass offense, while doubling the amount of wins it had last year. Still the team was disappointed that the improvement only gave the team four wins out of its 10-game schedule.

“Success comes in stages, we’re trying to build a very successful program that will eventually be one of the top echelon teams in this league year in and year out,” Pendergast said.

The Red didn’t exactly break into the top echelon this year, which Penn and Harvard have occupied in the past two years, but it did pose a much more formidable threat than it did last season when it only beat Princeton and Dartmouth.

“What was very successful this year compared to last was that our execution in more areas improved. Our attention to detail in more areas than in 2002 improved and became better,” Pendergast said. “Except for three games this year we were extremely competitive.”

After losing its first two games of the season, Cornell hosted a talented and explosive Towson team. The underdogs triumphed at home after sprinting out to a 24-0 lead at intermission. It took two overtimes to dispel the visitors.

After that game, Pendergast promised the media that there would be more wins and he delivered against Brown, Dartmouth, and Columbia in the second half of the season.

The team had the chance to beat Princeton, which was chosen to finish second in the league during the preseason, but fell in overtime.

Unlike the three previous years in Cornell football, the team didn’t rely upon the arm of quarterback Ricky Rahne ’02. The Red scored fewer points on average, but allowed fewer at the same time. Led by senior lineman Pete Combe and one of the best linebacker corps in the league, Cornell bent but didn’t break. The adage that defense wins games certainly applied for the Red in a 10-7 double overtime win at Brown and a 17-14 victory at Columbia.

The burden on the offense to be more productive will be of the utmost next season especially as the team graduates Combe, captain Nate Spitler, linebacker Jarad Madea, and three members of the secondary: Vinny Bates, Jamie Moriarty, and Jordan Hase.

“Number one, we have to score more points,” Pendergast said.

“Offensively, as the season progressed, we probably didn’t grow as much as I had hoped that we might have, although we did grow to win three out of our last five and four of our last eight.”

The young offensive line, devoid of consistent starters from the prior year, will have a year of experience entering 2003. Although senior wideout Keith Ferguson and classmate Nate Archer, who captained the team from fullback, will be significant losses, the offense should have established a foundation to build upon.

Sophomore Marcus Blanks was the cornerstone of the Red’s rushing game, and he may be joined in the backfield by Mick Razzano, who is looking to return for a fifth year.

One major difference between this year and earlier years was the respect given from other Ivy coaches exemplified in the nine All-Ivy selections from Ithaca. Archer, who led all fullbacks in rushing yardage and scoring, and Combe, who had the second-most tackles for loss, garnered first-team selections.

Cornell’s all-time leading receiver, Ferguson, was a second-teamer only to two Payton Award candidates, Brown’s Chas Gessner and Harvard’s Carl Morris. Spitler and a trio of sophomores, linebacker Joel Sussman, place kicker Travis MacMeekin, and offensive lineman Kevin Boothe joined him.

Sophomore linebacker Brad Kitlowski and Blanks received honorable mentions.

“What it says is that the coaches in the Ivy League are starting to recognize that there is some talent here,” Pendergast said.

With four senior All-Ivy mentions, and 16 total seniors, there will be a void that will need to be filled for next year, yet this class has helped instill perseverance, determination, and a work ethic for Cornell teams to come.

“We know how hard the guys work and what they meant to this team. That’s the legacy. Can we match the success that those four individuals in specific and 12 other seniors have contributed,” Pendergast said.

But right now, the team is taking a little break from the hectic football season. The coaches, on the other hand, are beginning their recruiting rounds for the anticipated class of 2007. Come next September, the team will concentrate on making that next step.

Archived article by Amanda Angel