September 20, 2004

Inconsistent special teams make difference

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LEWISBURG, Pa. — In an otherwise dark season sullied by lackluster offense and porous defense, Cornell’s kicking game provided the the 2003 Red gridders with some rare highlights. Entering this season, with uncertainties in both the defensive secondary and the offensive quarterback-receiving corps, head coach Jim Knowles ’87 and the players expected special teams to remain one of the team’s most reliable and effective units. And, with two experienced kickers — seniors Trevor MacMeekin and Mike Baumgartel — the Red has the talent to support those hopes.

Against Bucknell Saturday night, glimpses of last year’s prowess on special teams showed through, as senior Joel Sussman blocked two Bucknell field goals and Baumgartel booted a 40-yard punt. But glaring mistakes also plagued the unit, which missed two field goals and one extra point — seven crucial points which could have given the Red its first win of the season instead of its 10th loss in row.

“There is no reason we can’t have the best kicking game in the league,” Knowles said before the start of the season. “Both MacMeekin and Baumgartel are very, very good.”

Last year, Cornell was perfect on PATs, knocking in all 16 of its attempts, but the team struggled to score on field goals, hitting only four of 12. That statistic put the Red last in the Ivy League.

Baumgartel, on the other hand, compiled a set of impressive statistics which place him among the top Ivy punters. As a junior, he averaged 37.6 yards per punt and recorded a 61-yard bomb against Harvard. His 2,216 total punting yards were also good for second in the league.

Coming into the Bucknell game, both knew the importance of their roles and expected to deliver strong performances.

“My objective is to score points for the team,” MacMeekin said. “We need to convert every opportunity we have to score.”

“We’re looking to build off of last year,” Baumgartel said. “I’ve personally improved each season as I have gotten older and more comfortable on the field.”

While Baumgartel proved effective, giving the Red’s defense strong field position throughout his many appearances in Saturday’s game, MacMeekin struggled to connect on any of his attempts.

The senior’s first missed field goal came after the Red failed to convert a third down in its second drive of the first quarter. From 34 yards out, MacMeekin planted and kicked, but missed the uprights, and Cornell turned the ball over. In his next appearance early in the second quarter, MacMeekin lined up from 51 yards out, but could not get enough distance on the ball, which fell just short. Following the team’s first touchdown just before the end of the first half, MacMeekin lined up to kick the point after, but the ball sailed wide, and Cornell remained down, 7-6.

The shank prompted Knowles to replace MacMeekin with junior A.J. Weitsman, who had sent three kickoffs through the end zone earlier. Still down by one in the fourth quarter, Weitsman chipped a 28-yarder through the uprights to put Cornell up for the first time, 9-7.

“We need to work on our kicking game,” Knowles said. “Those are the little things that we need to do to win.”

Though the kicking effort was inconsistent, the team did have something to cheer about in Sussman’s performance in defending Bucknell’s kicking attempts. The whip’s first block came in the first quarter of play, when he and junior linebacker Matt Pollack got hands on Bison kicker Ryan Korn’s 42-yard attempt.

Sussman struck again just 22 seconds before the half. After Cornell punted following a three-and-out, the Bison raced 29 yards down field and downed the ball. Again, Korn lined up for a 42-yard attempt, but Sussman broke through line, reached up, and swatted down the pigskin.

“We wanted to be aggressive. Those were big plays for us,” Knowles said. “[Joel] did a nice job and helped us out.”

Sussman, no stranger to such effort, equalled his total for blocked kicks in his sophomore year with his performance.

As the Red looks toward next weekend and its game against Yale, the team will look back on Saturday’s performance to identify ways it can improve — things it can do to ensure every facet of its game contributes to a victory.

Said Knowles, “Overall, I think we played well, and I think we can build on this game.”

Archived article by Everett Hullverson
Sun Assistant Sports Editor