The football team’s seniors were honored for their years of dedication in a pre-game ceremony this Saturday. After that, however, the juniors promptly stole the show.
Columbia junior quarterback Jeff Otis hit classmate Wade Fletcher for two touchdowns on the way to a 34-21 victory over Cornell. The Lions’ (4-5, 3-3 Ivy) offense moved the ball quickly and efficiently in the first half, whereas the Red’s (1-8, 0-6) got off to a rocky start.
Cornell sophomore Andre Hardaway received the opening kickoff at his team’s own 14-yard line. Cutting his way upfield, Hardaway was stopped just past the 30. Unfortunately for Cornell, the ball kept going. Columbia’s kicker recovered the fumble at the 42-yard line to give the Lions prime field position. Within four plays, they were in the endzone on a Fletcher reception.
The Red’s offensive woes continued on the fourth drive of the game.
Backed in at its own 14, Cornell lined up in a passing formation. The snap to senior quarterback D.J. Busch was high, however, causing him to scramble after it in the end zone. When Busch looked up, the Columbia defenders were right there with him. Hurried and looking for a receiver, the senior quarterback aired it out over the middle of the field. Busch found one. He just wasn’t on Cornell. Columbia’s Steve Cargile intercepted Busch’s pass right between the numbers. With a wide open lane before him, he was able to return the ball 20 yards. Columbia ended the drive with a field goal to make the score 10-0.
“We dug ourselves a pretty big hole the first half, and most of it came unfortunately on turnovers,” said Cornell head coach Tim Pendergast.
Yet, as deep as the hole extended, Cornell seemed to be on the verge of climbing out. After the Lions handed the team a 10-point deficit, Busch and the offense went the length of the field to score seven points of their own. The touchdown came as sophomore tailback Josh Johnston punched through Columbia’s defensive line for a seven-yard run.
“We knew that we could pound the ball against them,” said Johnston.
And they did, but not without a comedy of errors. Though Johnston scored on the drive, Busch was sacked, Cornell was called for a delay of game, and the Red even had to punt. Only through a Columbia mistake was the drive saved, as the Lions were called for roughing the kicker, and the Cornell drive was given new life.
“We’ve been playing behind all year. I don’t even know what it feels like to play with a lead,” he said.
Columbia didn’t allow him to find out on Saturday, either, as the 10-7 score would be the closest Cornell came all day to capturing the lead. The Lions finished out the first quarter with a second touchdown and closed the half with 43-yard field goal. Cornell responded to neither.
After halftime, though, things seemed to change.
Columbia and Cornell held each other scoreless for a majority of the third quarter. With 7:22 left, however, Columbia broke the deadlock by intercepting a Cornell pass. A series of rushing plays moved the Lions closer to the goal line. Within striking distance, Otis threw to Fletcher, but the pass was broken up by senior safety Neil Morrissey. Undeterred and on third down, Columbia ran the same play again, this time to completion.
Cornell was right back in it with its next four plays. Johnston pushed the ball forward 12 yards, and senior receiver John Kellner scrapped his way to another four to keep the Red moving down the field. It was junior receiver Trent Carvolth, however, who hit pay dirt, catching a short slant pass which he then took 45 yards for a touchdown.
“The one time we did try to pressure, they threw the quick under for Carvolth for the touchdown,” said Columbia head coach Bob Schoop.
Busch recognized the blitz, citing the gaps in Columbia’s coverage for the play’s success.
“That’s the way it’s supposed to work,” he said. “We’re supposed to be able take advantage when people blitz us.”
After making it 27-14, Busch and Cornell did more than that. A quick defensive stop gave the Red the ball and a combination of Busch’s arm and Johnston’s legs gave Cornell its third touchdown.
“We were on the two yard line and needed to get in,” said Johnston of his second touchdown. “I just drove my feet, got in.”
The play kept both teams on edge.
“I think the outcome was in doubt until the very end,” said Schoop. “We just couldn’t knock them out, even though we got up 27-7, and then we let them back in the game with two touchdowns.”
Then, Cornell’s defense went to work. After stopping Columbia on first down, and batting a pass away for second down, the Cornell defense set itself up with a 13-yard cushion. It proved not to be enough, however, as Otis found senior Travis Chemelka for a first down. From there, Columbia marched down the field. Otis ran the ball into the endzone himself to end the drive and put the game out of reach.
“I felt like, had we stopped them there, we had plenty of time left to go. I felt like we were moving the ball real well offensively,” said Pendergast.
Busch agreed with his coach.
“We were still in the game with five minutes left, and then they came up with a big play on third-and-long to seal the deal,” he said. “Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong this year, and that’s the bottom line.”
Archived article by Matt Janiga