At this time last year, the Cornell football team was preparing for its first game — and subsequent victory — versus Bucknell at Schoellkopf Field. Unfortunately for the 2003 squad, the win against Bucknell would be the first and last high point of an otherwise tumultuous season.
Tomorrow, the Red finds itself in a familiar situation. While this season’s opener will be played in Lewisburg, Pa., the same opponent and the same expectations for victory remain for the team. The trick this year will be prolonging that undefeated streak just a little bit longer.
“I’m not satisfied with anything but winning every game that we play,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “We can do whatever we want as long as we put our minds to it.”
Tomorrow’s opener will answer many of the lingering questions that have surrounded the football program since the arrival of Knowles in January. The first-year coach — and former Cornell athlete — has implemented striking new systems in an effort to improve last year’s league-worst offense and tighten up an oftentimes susceptible defense.
Luckily for the Red, a vast number of starters and experienced role players are returning this season to ease the transition into a new era. Senior outside linebacker Brad Kitlowski and right tackle Kevin Boothe are both coming off All-Ivy award winning seasons, while quarterback D.J. Busch will be running the offense after starting in five games last year. In addition, a plethora of returning lettermen on both offense and defense should make this year’s team one of the most experienced in the Ivy League.
And a team that, for a long time, has been waiting for this moment to arrive.
“Everyone on the team is excited for the season to finally begin,” Boothe said. “Bucknell is a good team. They will be pumped up and we will too. We’re expecting a tough game.”
The Bison (0-1) enter their home opener after losing a tight battle with Villanova on Sept 2, 20-14. Bucknell is led by senior quarterback Daris Wilson, running back Blamah Sarnor and a defense that returns nine full-time starters from last fall.
Bison head coach Tim Landis is in only his second campaign with the team, making tomorrow’s contest a match-up of freshly appointed coaches.
Last year, the Red held off a late fourth-quarter surge by the Bison to eek out a 21-19 victory. Departed senior quarterback Mick Razzano passed for 216 yards and a touchdown in addition to rushing for two touchdowns of his own.
Current junior tailback Joshua Johnston led Cornell on the ground with 78 yards on 18 carries while current senior Marcus Blanks added 47 yards on 15 carries.
Despite last year’s win, the 2004 team does not intend to take the Bison lightly whatsoever. In fact, the Red’s victory last season could very well have gone the other way — had Bucknell place-kicker Ryan Korn not bounced a 27-yard attempt off the left upright with less than two minutes remaining.
“We’re going to prepare for every possible scenario against Bucknell,” Knowles said. The Red will also be on the lookout for junior defensive back Dante Ross, who took two kickoff returns for 37 total yards against Villanova last week.
Ross can receive both kickoffs and punts, and the Red special teams unit has been working to shut down a potentially game-changing return.
“[Ross] is a very dangerous returner,” said Cornell punter Mike Baumgartel. “We have been practicing a few different techniques to use against him.”
Cornell leads the all-time series with Bucknell, holding a 34-9 edge against a Bison team that has been the opening-day opponent for three of the last four years.
If history indeed repeats itself this season, the Red look to be in good shape for a victory. The football team has an all-time opening day record of 85-27-4, and is 6-2 in season openers against Bucknell.
The Red and the Bison first met in 1888.
Archived article by Kyle Sheahen
Sun Assistant Sports Editor