November 7, 2003

Gridders Visit Green

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While the football team (1-6, 0-4 Ivy) hasn’t won since Sept. 20, its biggest loss of the season might’ve come last Sunday. Last Saturday’s 28-6 loss at Princeton was certainly devastating, but the day after the loss provided the week’s worst news.

“Mick’s done for the year,” said head coach Tim Pendergast of his senior quarterback and offensive captain Mick Razzano. “He knew that he wasn’t healthy, knew he wasn’t 100 percent, and I told Mick, ‘If you were my son I would encourage you not to play until you’re healthy because you’ll put yourself at more risk.'”

Razzano, who gained an extra year of eligibility this season in order to lead the Red, has been suffering from a pulled abdominal muscle since the season’s first month.

At a press conference Wednesday, Pendergast talked further of Razzano’s decision.

“He’s such a competitor and he’s such a driven guy that he didn’t want to take no for an answer,” said Pendergast. “After the Princeton game, he basically knew he can’t do it anymore. So I talked to him on Sunday and he’s made his decision and it’s the right decision.”

As if Razzano’s departure was not tough enough for the Red, Cornell also lost freshman wide receiver Tony Jackson (clavicle) and outside linebacker Pat Starleper (ACL tear) this week. Furthermore, junior cornerback Sean Nassoiy is out indefinitely and will not play tomorrow.

“We’re staying positive. It’s about staying the course, and that’s what you have to do in this situation,” said senior wideout John Kellner of the losing streak and the team’s injury problems. “The only thing that will fix it is a win and we know that.”

The reality for the Red is, indeed, that the most immediate issue at hand is a trip to Hanover tomorrow to face the red hot Green of Dartmouth.

Last week, Dartmouth (3-4, 2-2 Ivy) stunned then-undefeated Harvard 30-16 in one of the Ivy League’s biggest upsets in recent memory.

Sophomore quarterback Charlie Rittgers led the charge for the Green, completing 17 of 33 passes for 344 yards. Rittgers, one of the league’s most exciting young talents, also threw two touchdowns and scored another on the ground in the victory.

Rittgers favorite target is senior Jay Barnard who averages 8 catches per game for 103.3 yards, both tops in the Ivies. Barnard is the current school record holder for career receptions and is only 354 yards away from being Dartmouth’s all-time yardage leader.

Dartmouth tends towards the big play, something Cornell’s defense has been prone to give up in 2003. Last week saw the Green execute 11 plays of 20 yards or more.

“Last week against Harvard, they really let the cat out of the bag. It was really an offensive explosion in many ways,” said Pendergast. “Give all the credit to Dartmouth because they won that game on the scoreboard, they didn’t win it in statistical categories necessarily, but they won it on the scoreboard.”

Cornell’s defense will have to neutralize that scoring prowess in order to compete with the Green, who is currently riding a three-game win streak since Rittgers took over the helm.

“After watching the Harvard tape, they’re going to cause a lot of problems. Hopefully we’re going to prepare well enough for anything they’re going to throw at us,” said senior free safety Neil Morrissey, who leads the Red in tackles with 9.1 per game. “It does not look complicated, they are just athletes and we have to be athletes right back and neutralize the attack.”

As for Cornell’s offense, it will have to contend more with itself than with Dartmouth’s oftentimes inconsistent defense. The Red is currently last in the Ivy League in rush offense (103.7 ypg), sacks allowed (19), first downs (124) and scoring (12.1 ppg).

The reins of Cornell’s struggling offense will be passed to senior D.J. Busch, who had been sharing snaps with Razzano the past four weeks. Busch, to this point, has thrown for 608 yards on 55-111 passing, averaging 121.6 yards per game. Busch’s teammates are optimistic about his extended and permanent role behind center.

“We’re really comfortable with D.J. He’s a great quarterback. We lose a great player in Mick and that hurts, but as far as athletic wise, D.J. can step in and do a great job for us,” said Kellner.

On the other side of the ball, junior David Blanks will step in for Nassoiy and sophomore Jeff Hahn will fill Starleper’s role.

Still, regardless of the changes and in spite of its six game losing streak, the Red has remained optimistic this week and will head into Hanover with a renewed sense of purpose.

“I don’t think anyone could sit here and tell you we’d be 1-6. It’s something that you don’t think about, it can happen to anybody,” said Kellner. “It tests your character, it tests the team’s character. And we just need to come out and get a win.”

And Pendergast feels good about his team’s chances to turn it around starting tomorrow.

“I feel very sure that we’ll win a game — this week,” he concluded.

Archived article by Scott Jones