Last season, Cornell salvaged a win at Columbia with a 44-yard Mick Razzano pass to then junior receiver John Kellner. Cornell scored on the drive, eeking out a 17-14 win in the frosty New York November. Tomorrow, against the Lions (3-5, 2-3 Ivy), the Red (1-7, 0-5) finds itself in a similar situation.
While the Red entered the season with high hopes, hunting for an Ivy title, it has since gone the other way. After losses to Yale, Harvard, Brown, Princeton and Dartmouth, the players are still optimistic. They’re looking to finish strong, and once again pull out a come-from-behind victory. This time, however, the team is looking to salvage its season.
“It’s not tough to keep going because this is what we live for,” said senior co-captain Kevin Rooney. “You only get 10 chances every year.”
Head coach Tim Pendergast agreed, noting that the team has appeared extremely motivated for this weekend’s game.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t tough in terms of losses, but these players haven’t given up,” he said. “They’re excited, they’re juiced, and it says a lot about the character of this team.”
Yet, after a 16-13 last-second upset win against Harvard last weekend, the same thing can be said of Columbia. The Lions’ offense has recently blossomed on the arm of quarterback Jeff Otis. Last week alone, he threw for 253 yards and a touchdown.
“[Columbia’s] passing game is definitely very strong. They’re right at the top of the league and they have a very good quarterback,” said Rooney. “He fields pressure well and he finds his receivers.”
Rooney and his coaches also noted how an effective pass rush could be a the key to shutting down the Lions’ offense.
“Up front, we’re just going to get after him, try to be in his face all day,” he said.
“We have got a consistent pass rush the past few weeks, and we need to get more,” agreed Pendergast.
Still, Otis is just one of Columbia’s offensive threats. Lions tight end Wade Fletcher poses more of a problem to the defense, particularly the secondary.
“He’s a big boy, 6-7, 240 — he’s one of [Otis’s] better targets,” said senior safety Neil Morrissey. “We’re looking to shut him down. We see him as the key to the offense. We’re really looking to focus on him, take him out, and then dismantle them from there.”
Rooney had exactly the same idea.
“We’ll try to jam him off the line and definitely have our eyes out for him,” he said. “He’s the main target for them.”
Cornell, however, is not without offensive firepower of its own. Starting his fourth game of the season, senior quarterback D.J. Busch will again look to use his arm to march the Red downfield. Additionally, Cornell’s leading tailback, sophomore Josh Johnston, is back from injury and should add to the Red’s already dangerous ground attack.
Still, Cornell will have to work hard against the Columbia defense.
“Columbia was obviously able to do some good things defensively — holding Harvard well below their average — and they were able to take the ball away a couple of times,” said Pendergast.
Senior receiver Vic Yanz compared the Lions to Dartmouth, which also beat Harvard just a week before facing Cornell.
“Just looking at tape and everything, on the defensive side of the ball, I don’t think Columbia is as solid as Dartmouth was last week,” he said. “But we still have our work cut out for us, and it’s still going to take a lot of preparation.”
Yanz and the team’s sixteen other seniors have been preparing for this game over the past four years of their Cornell careers. The game against Columbia marks the last time they will play on Schoellkopf field.
“It’s tough obviously,” said Yanz of the team’s 1-7 record. “This isn’t where we wanted to be. We had expectations that were sky high, and we just didn’t get off to a good start.”
But it doesn’t mean that he or any of his teammates are going to give up now.
“We’re still going out and playing hard, and trying to win games,” he said.
Archived article by Matt Janiga