HANOVER, N.H. — In a game that was defined more by the influence of the elements than the influence of either of the participants, the football team experienced another in a long line of frustrating games Saturday, as it dropped its seventh straight game, 26-17, to Dartmouth at Memorial Stadium.
Despite a rash of injuries, the Red played one of its most inspired games of the season. However, penalties and mental mistakes again spelled the Red’s doom. Senior quarterback D.J. Busch was solid in his third start of the season — his first since the team learned that senior offensive captain Mick Razzano would be done for the year. Busch passed for 194 yards on 42 pass attempts. He was intercepted twice. It was Busch’s finest performance in three starts this season; a showing that was overshadowed, though, by the frustration of the Red’s fifth conference loss in as many tries.
“It’s tough, man, going out there. You’re trying to get things going and we just made three mistakes in a row at the wrong time,” Busch said. “That’s been what this team has been about all year.”
The Green scored on its second possession of the game, as quarterback Charlie Rittgers found receiver Andrew Hall for a 13-yard touchdown pass. Placekicker Tyler Lavin’s extra point attempt failed after holder Grant Wagner mishandled the snap, giving Dartmouth an early 6-0 lead. However, the Red responded on its ensuing possession, charging 57 yards down the field in five plays. The drive culminated in an 11-yard touchdown pass from Busch to junior wideout Carlos Hill. Junior Trevor MacMeekin converted the point after to give Cornell a 7-6 lead. The Red extended the lead to 10-6 on its next possession on a 32-yard field goal by MacMeekin.
The Red’s lead proved to be short-lived, though. After each team went three-and-out, the Green strung together a six-play, 72-yard drive that culminated in a 25-yard scoring pass from Rittgers to Cramer. The Green took a 13-10 lead with 12:21 remaining in the second quarter and would not trail again.
“I thought the first half was a good first half for us. I thought both sides of the football were helping us stay in the game,” said Cornell head coach Tim Pendergast. “Where we weren’t getting help in the first half was primarily in special teams getting field position, which drastically affects our ability to move the football down field.”
The consistency of the first half, however, did not carry over into the second. Dartmouth opened up a 19-10 lead on an 11-play drive early in the third quarter. Rittgers used a combination of running and passing plays to quickly advance 66 yards for the score. Rittgers connected with Cramer on a short pass on second-and-goal from the four-yard line for the touchdown.
The Red found itself unable to convert on an excellent opportunity in the quarter. After advancing to the Dartmouth 14-yard line, Cornell was pushed back towards midfield on a couple of penalties. On first-and-10, the Red was flagged for a false start and a five-yard penalty. Two plays later, Cornell was penalized another 10 yards for holding.
“We moved the ball down field a couple of plays then shot ourselves in the foot again with an offsides penalty, followed immediately by a holding penalty that effectively took us out of field goal range,” lamented Pendergast.
Cornell made the game a little more interesting late in the quarter. After Wagner’s punt from his own end zone landed on the Dartmouth 23-yard line, the Red quickly marched in for the score. Passing out of a shotgun formation, Busch found senior wide receiver John Kellner on the right for a 26-yard touchdown reception. After MacMeekin converted the extra point, the Red went into the fourth quarter trailing, 19-17.
However, the Red was unable to find such offensive efficiency in the fourth quarter. On four possessions in the stanza, Busch was intercepted once, fumbled once, and turned the ball over on downs. On the one drive that resulted in a decent scoring opportunity, MacMeekin’s 27-yard field goal attempt clanked off the upright to again keep the Red from putting points on the board.
“With 4:47 to go and being down, we knew we had to have two scores — a field goal and a touchdown, and with that time left, you really don’t have any decisions to make,” said Pendergast. “Our decision was to attempt to gain a first down. You know, have confidence in your offense that you’re going to gain a first down and don’t back down.”
Meanwhile, the Green extended its lead to 26-17 on a 14-yard touchdown reception by wide receiver Jay Barnard with 11 minutes remaining in the game.
Despite the injury troubles that have plagued the Red all season, the team was able to point to an encouraging sign in the return of sophomore tailback Josh Johnston. In his first game back since sustaining an ankle injury against Harvard last month, Johnston gained 61 yards on the ground on 19 carries.
“The first half, it took a little while getting into it,” he said. “The second half, I felt good getting the ball and just driving down the field.”
Due to injuries in other areas, several other members of the Red saw their first prolonged game action of the season Saturday. Among those are junior outside linebacker Jeff Hahn and junior cornerback David Blanks.
“The injuries have been a very difficult thing for us to overcome, but I am very proud of the players who have stepped in and assumed roles that weren’t necessarily theirs at the beginning of the year, but have become theirs as time has gone on,” Pendergast said.
Archived article by Owen Bochner