PRINCETON, N.J. — The scoreboard read 21-0 in Princeton’s favor after the first half of this weekend’s football game, but that wasn’t the problem for Cornell. The problem was that it read 14-0 after the first five minutes of play.
Princeton scored on its second and third drives to take an early and permanent lead in this Saturday’s 28-6 win over Cornell. Three of Princeton’s touchdowns came through the air, as Tiger quarterback Matt Verbit picked apart the Cornell secondary. Cornell head coach Tim Pendergast addressed the backfield’s lapses after the game.
“We did have a couple of breakdowns,” he said. “You can look at any play and quite frankly, you can see 22 breakdowns out there if you study closely enough. But they found us, they found our breakdown.”
The game opened well for the Red. Though Princeton returned a Trevor MacMeekin kick for 10 yards and completed its initial passing play for a first-down, it failed to move the ball much further. Cornell’s defense held Princeton running back Jon Veach at the line of scrimmage on consecutive plays, and hurried Tiger quarterback Matt Verbit for an incomplete pass to end the drive.
Cornell, however, failed to generate any offensive momentum of its own.
On the Red’s first offensive play, senior quarterback Mick Razzano dropped back in the pocket and looked right to fake a hand off. When he looked back up field, he was hard pressed to find an open receiver. Instead, Razzano found himself staring straight at the oncoming Princeton defense.
Razzano scrambled back and moved right again, looking to pass the ball. He was unable to, allowing the Tigers the necessary time to find him in the pocket. Razzano went down, fumbling the ball during the hit. Junior offensive lineman Kevin Boothe recovered the ball for Cornell, but not before the team suffered a six-yard loss. The next three attempts to move the ball also went poorly for Cornell, forcing the offense to punt from its own seven yard line.
Capitalizing on prime field position and a newly unveiled passing scheme, Princeton was on the board with it’s next play.
Cornell’s second drive opened like its first. After sophomore Andre Hardaway returned the ball 25 yards to the Cornell 28, Razzano took his fourth snap of the game. He also committed his second fumble, this time allowing Princeton’s Joe Weiss to recover the ball. Verbit found receiver Blair Morrison on the very next play to give Princeton a 14-0 lead.
“I didn’t plan on fumbling the ball and them recovering it down there,” said Razzano. “We had to dig ourselves out and we didn’t.”
Despite being down, Pendergast didn’t give up on his team.
“I had confidence, faith in my team that we would battle back,” he said. “I felt that we’d done an excellent job this week in preparation, but it obviously wasn’t quite enough.”
The truth and gravity of the situation were obvious.
“You can’t give the other offense the ball down there,” Razzano said.
While it took Princeton just four minutes and 47 seconds to put Cornell in a hole, it took Cornell nearly 57 minutes to respond. Senior quarterback D.J. Busch, finishing the game for an injured Razzano, hit senior receiver John Kellner over the middle of the field for Cornell’s first touchdown. Kellner broke several tackles on his way to the endzone.
For Princeton, keeping Cornell off the scoreboard was simply a by-product of an early and comfortable defensive start.
“I think the emotional level of our defense initially in the game, it didn’t even take them a series to get their feet on the ground,” said Princeton head coach Roger Hughes. “They came right out and stopped them early, and got us the ball back with a couple of turnovers. It’s nice to get that kind of start.”
Cornell safety Neil Morrissey, who had an interception and fumble recovery in the game, also acknowledged the defense as a factor in the win. He spoke of his team’s own defensive breakdowns.
“I don’t think we communicated what we needed to communicate,” Morrissey said. “The coaches prepared us well enough to know what we’re supposed to do. I believe that we as players just didn’t communicate and didn’t get the job done.”
Pendergast succinctly summed up the game.
“As far as we’re concerned, it was another very tough loss.”
Archived article by Matthew Janiga