PHILADELPHIA — Before many of the fans attending Saturday’s football game at Franklin Field even settled into their seats, the Cornell football team (1-9, 0-7 Ivy) found itself down by a touchdown to No. 9 Penn (10-0, 7-0). Mike Mitchell’s 60-yard touchdown pass to Dan Castles came on the very first play of the game from scrimmage.
From that point on, things would not get even a bit easier for the Red, which lost its ninth straight game to conclude a disappointing and injury-ridden season.
The theme of the game came down to execution and playmaking. The difference was obvious — while the Red struggled in both categories, the Quakers shined, and had no trouble wrapping up their fourth straight Trustees’ Cup victory.
Penn scored a touchdown on each of its first four possessions of the game, all of which came in a first quarter that saw the Quakers open up a huge 28-0 lead.
“We’ve always taken the attitude that you always want to attack,” said Penn head coach Al Bagnoli, who won his 86th game at Penn on Saturday. “Luckily for us, we made quite a few big plays early, and it took some of the wind out of their sails, and by half, we had things pretty well under control.”
In that first quarter, Mitchell passed for an incredible 192 yards and the first three of his five passing touchdowns on the day. He went 8-for-8, repeatedly confounding the Cornell defense.
“We obviously did not do a good job defending the pass, we didn’t get much pressure on Mitchell, and those things go hand in hand,” Cornell head coach Tim Pendergast said. “Without a pass rush, when any quarterback has time to throw the ball, and due to the fact that we weren’t particularly good at all in coverage today, they had a field day.”
On the receiving end of two of Mitchell’s three first-quarter touchdown passes was Castles, who would later catch two more to set a Penn record for most touchdown receptions in a game. Castles had 168 receiving yards in the quarter.
While the Quakers’ offensive onslaught was the story of the first quarter, the second quarter was marked by Cornell’s ineptitude on offense. In four possessions in the quarter, the Red turned the ball over four times.
With 12:32 left in the quarter, senior quarterback D.J. Busch was picked off by Penn’s Rudy Brown on the eighth play of the Red drive. Cornell’s next possession also ended in the hands of Quaker defensive back, as Pat McManus intercepted Busch on third-and-eight.
Fortunately for the Red, Penn was again forced to punt on the ensuing possession, and Josh Appell’s punt traveled only four yards before being downed at the Cornell 38-yard line. Unfortunately for the Red, this misfired punt was one of the few mistakes Penn made on the day, and Cornell was unable to capitalize.
Cornell’s resulting possession ended just six plays later, when senior fullback Todd Newell dropped a seven-yard pass from Busch, which was recovered immediately by Penn’s Kevin Stefanski.
The final Red possession of the half also ended in a fumble, as senior wide receiver John Kellner was unable to hold onto the ball after being hit by Penn’s Luke Hadden. This fumble resulted in another Penn touchdown, as Mitchell again found Castles in the end zone, this time for a 12-yard reception.
“We knew coming into the game that we couldn’t turn the ball over. We had five turnovers in the first half, and you can’t win against a team like Penn with five turnovers, it’s impossible,” said Busch. “We shot ourselves in the foot. One thing that we said going into the game is that we can’t beat ourselves. If we can stay in the game through the third quarter, we’ve got a chance, but we never even got that opportunity.”
Trailing 35-0 at the half, the Red was unable to dig itself out of its hole in the second half. Penn proceeded to extend the lead to 38 points on a Peter Veldman 35-yard field goal before Cornell finally got on the board with 6:35 remaining in the third quarter. Busch culminated a 12 play, 67-yard drive with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Kellner, the final reception of the senior’s career.
“I’m glad that John got a catch in his last game, as a senior,” said Busch. “But when you’re down 45 points, I think it was at that point, it doesn’t mean nothing to me.”
The Quakers scored twice more in the next 15 minutes of the game to take a commanding 52-7 lead into the game’s waning minutes. After the Red turned the ball over on downs on the Penn 25-yard line, the Quakers took over with 3:02 remaining in the game.
In four plays, the Red again found its backs to its own end zone, at second-and-goal on the Cornell four. With 31 seconds left, the Quakers put an exclamation point on the game and their championship season, as backup running back Kyle Ambrogi pushed through the Cornell defense to score a controversial touchdown.
“I was disappointed they didn’t take a knee,” said Pendergast. “They had the opportunity to but they didn’t. It’s not like they had to score a lot of points to go to a bowl game, so I’m very disappointed.”
“We were playing our third and fourth kids. Those kids have practiced all year and haven’t had a chance to get in the game. It’s not like we were coming out with our first-string group in there,” Bagnoli explained. “It wasn’t done with any intention to run up the score or anything. Those were the kids who wanted to carry the ball, and had worked hard to carry the ball. I felt we ran some pretty simple plays.”
For the game, Penn outgained the Red by almost 300 yards, 591-293. Defensively, the Quakers also dominated, causing six Red turnovers and recording seven sacks for a combined loss of 62 yards.
It was not the feeling the Red wanted to conclude its season with.
“We dug ourselves a tremendous hole in the first half with five turnovers, and that’s kind of been the problem that we’ve had every game this year other than one,” said Pendergast. “We dug ourselves a hole in the first half, just didn’t have the ability to come back, and that was really the game.”
Archived article by Owen Bochner