Homecoming is usually about returning to the ole alma mater, shaking some hands, making some connections, and grooming oneself for the formal of your choice. For the football team, though, it’s about one thing: getting its first win on the board in over a month.
As alumni flood the Crescent and students tailgate outside, the football team (1-4, 0-2 Ivy) will take to the field tomorrow looking for its first win in five weeks.
Homecoming is always an emotional time for the members of the Red and they’re feeling particularly riled up this season after an abysmal showing during last year’s big weekend — a 50-23 pounding at the hands of Yale.
“Looking back to last year’s homecoming, when we got blown out in front of thousands of fans, it’s something none of us ever want to see happen again,” said senior defensive lineman Mike Stone.
Of course, even more transient in the minds of the Cornell squad is last week’s multi-lateral breakdown against Georgetown. Heading into the game, the 2-4 Hoyas seemed to present the struggling Red with its best chance for victory since its opening game against Bucknell on Sept. 20. What the Red received was an all-out attack it couldn’t contain at any point in the lopsided loss. The end result: a 42-20 loss that left the Red with many more questions than answers.
“It was probably the toughest loss of the season for us,” said senior wide receiver John Kellner. “It was a game we were expecting to win, and I think it just proved that you can’t take anything for granted.”
One thing head coach Tim Pendergast has tried not to take for granted is this week’s opportunity for a new start.
“In many ways we are entering a new season,” he said. “The remaining five games are all Ivy League games; anything’s possible, anything for us, but it starts with one win.”
If tomorrow is indeed a new season for Pendergast’s gridders, its first test comes against a team that finds itself in a strikingly similar situation.
Brown (1-4, 0-2 Ivy) meets Cornell amidst its own four-game slide. The Bears are coming off a fourth quarter collapse and subsequent 34-14 Homecoming loss to Princeton, and haven’t won a game since their first week of play.
Leading the charge for the often sporadic Brown attack is a pair of offensive standouts.
Sophomore tailback Nick Hartigan is one of the Ivy League’s true bruisers from the backfield and is currently sixth in the nation, boasting a 135.6 rushing yards per game mark. Hartigan’s 40 carries last week — which allowed him to garner over 150 yards against a tough Princeton defense — are indicative of Brown’s willingness to grind it out behind their 6-2, 200-pound star.
Hartigan has tallied 100-plus yards in four of the Bears’ five games in 2003, which will provide yet another tough challenge for a Cornell defense that is currently ranked 86th in the nation for run defense.
“They’re very physical and they like to move people around, so we’re looking to be down in the trenches all day fighting each other,” said Stone.
Also sustaining Brown’s possession-minded offense is senior quarterback Kyle Slager. Slager transferred to Providence from the University of Arizona to earn the starting job last year, and has since shown his D-I swagger in many ways. Playing in just his second season at the helm, Slager has already risen to third on the all-time completions list at Brown.
The Bears defense is certainly the team’s most vulnerable asset, as it’s allowed 363 yards of total offense per game this season.
As for Cornell, success is, in many ways, just a matter of playing up to potential — a task it has yet to truly achieve in 2003. Each week, one facet of the Red’s attack seems to lag behind the play of all the others.
For instance, last Saturday, it was the special teams that lacked its normal consistency. Georgetown punt returner Luke McArdle was able to navigate the porous Cornell cover team, lighting up the Red for an astounding 182 return yards — including an 88-yarder down to the Cornell two-yard line.
“I think what we have to do is nothing magical, we just have to get better. We have to not violate the defense, and by that I mean that everybody has to play assignment football,” said Pendergast. “If somebody’s trying to do too much and overcompensate, then we have mistakes.”
Senior quarterbacks Mick Razzano and D.J. Busch will share the honors at quarterback, following Busch’s first start of the 2003 season a week ago. Razzano is returning from an abdominal injury, but should be ready to go at game time.
Unfortunately for the Red, it will be without the services of leading rusher sophomore Josh Johnston. At the same time, the Red received good news this week with the return of blocking juggernaut, junior offensive lineman Keith Boothe.
To Pendergast, though, the Red’s success is not an issue of personnel. Rather, his team will need to execute in order to win. His team is also aware of the task at hand.
“We’ve really been getting at each other really hard all week,” said Stone. “We want to put in a great performance for homecoming and tear Brown apart.”
The tearing will begin at 1 p.m. on Schoellkopf Field tomorrow.
Archived article by Scott Jones