LEWISBURG, Pa. — Head coach Jim Knowles’ ’87 first game at the helm of the Cornell football program ended in a loss Saturday night, as the Red (0-1) succumbed to the Bucknell (1-1) on soggy turf at Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium. The loss extended Cornell’s losing streak to a school record-tying ten games, with its last win coming against the Bison in its home-opener a year ago. Despite the loss, Cornell showed improvement and played solidly until the final minutes of the fourth quarter, when two big plays set Bucknell up for its winning score.
With only 4:51 remaining on the game clock, the Red held a 9-7 lead, but Bucknell’s Daris Wilson hit Nissan Trotter on a 49-yard pass from scrimmage, putting the Bison into Cornell territory. On the next play, Wilson picked up 21 yards on the ground, setting the Bison up to punch the ball in and send Cornell home.
Prior to that, the senior tandem of quarterback D.J. Busch and wideout Chad Nice, and junior running backs Andre Hardaway and Joshua Johnston, worked offensively to give the Red the lead. Busch finished the evening 19-of-38 for 193 yards, with Nice hauling in six passes for 84 yards. Hardaway rushed for 40 yards on 15 carries, leading the team on the ground, while Johnston followed just behind him, picking up 35 yards on 12 runs.
Special teams and defense also factored heavily in the contest, as senior Joel Sussman blocked two field goal attempts for Cornell, and senior defensive back Sean Nassoiy picked up his first interception of the season, stuffing a Bucknell drive. The Red also failed to convert two-of-three field goal attempts and missed one PAT — misses which cost the team valuable points and momentum. “Any time you play a first game, you really work on moving the ball and controlling the game, and I think we did that for the most part tonight.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough on the scoreboard,” Knowles said. “I told our guys in the locker room that I was proud of their effort, but they shouldn’t be satisfied with that. They came here to win, and now we have to go back and get it done next weekend. We can be a good football team, and we’re going to be a good football team.”
The game began evenly, with both teams dueling for possession throughout the first quarter and trading their fair share of mistakes. Bucknell came out on top after the first 15 minutes of play, however, scoring the period’s only points.
From the outset, Cornell played well on offense and defense, but the team failed to convert on most of its possessions, going three-and-out and forced to punt. After picking up a quick first down on its opening drive, Bucknell stifled the Red, forcing it to punt. The Bison took the ball over but gave it back almost as quickly, fumbling on their second play. Sophomore cornerback Matt Grant recovered the drop for Cornell.
But the team could not capitalize on the turnover, again stalling after three downs before senior placekicker Trevor MacMeekin missed a 34-yard field goal attempt.
The game’s first score happened following the change of possession, when Bucknell drove 80 yards on 11 plays to find the end zone 4:20 into the game. The score came after Wilson connected with tight end Ian Nutt off of a bootleg pass.
After both teams traded the ball back-and-forth to open the second quarter, the Red picked up its only touchdown of the game after Nice made a crucial 23-yard catch on third-and-13. After the grab, Cornell called a timeout to regroup. Busch emerged throwing, connecting again with Nice for 16- and 10-yard gains to get the Red to the Bucknell 10. In the red zone, Knowles put senior safety Brad Kitlowski in at fullback to lead the way for Hardaway, who picked up eight yards on the play, putting Cornell on the two-yard line. Hardaway banged his way into the end zone on the next play, but MacMeekin missed the extra point, and the Bison maintained their 7-6 lead going into halftime.
“We need to work on our kicking game,” Knowles said. “Those are the little things that we need to do to win.”
The fourth quarter opened with Cornell still trailing by one and Bucknell driving downfield. The series ended on Cornell’s own 35, though, when senior defensive lineman Ryan Lempa fell on a fumble, giving the ball back to the Red. Busch took the team downfield in sharp fashion on Cornell’s ensuing drive, hitting junior tight end Chris Eckstein with a 22-yard bullet over the middle, while Hardaway picked up 19 yards on two carries to put the Red in scoring position on Bucknell’s 18. A series of plays got Cornell closer — down to the eight yard line — but Bucknell’s Joe Glenn tackled Hardaway for a seven-yard loss on third-and-goal, and Cornell opted for a field goal try.
“We had some momentum then, and we had to keep it going,” Knowles said. After that, the things went downhill for the Red, as Bucknell connected on two big plays for the contest’s final score. Wilson first hit Trotter for a huge 49-yard pickup, then kept the ball himself, running to the Cornell one-yard line before faking a handoff and walking into the end zone. Carrying the team again, Wilson found Nutt alone in the end zone, completing the Bison’s two-point conversion attempt and putting the team up, 15-9.
Passing on third and fourth downs in its last possession, Cornell tried to move the ball downfield, but saw both passes deflected — with them, the Red’s hopes of salvaging a victory.
To seal the deal, Bucknell converted on fourth-and-four with fewer than 30 seconds to play and held out for the win.
“Unfortunately, that was [Bucknell] matching up on our freshman corner back [Trotter] going up and winning the battle for the ball,” Knowles said. “That’s the hard part. It was one mistake. On on the next play, our back-side containment just flowed too far. It’s over …”
Cornell plays Yale Saturday in its home opener, dubbed “Schoellkopf Sellout II.” The Bulldogs have beaten the Red for three straight years.
Archived article by Everett Hullverson
Sun Assistant Sports Editor