September 27, 2004

Plenty of Stars Shine for Red in Emotional Ivy Win

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Saturday morning, everyone expected the Yale Bulldogs to begin their quest for an Ivy championship with a resounding win over the lowly Cornell Red. Everyone expected Bulldog senior running back Robert Carr to turn in a highlight-reel rushing performance against a supposedly unstable Cornell defense. Everyone expected the visiting Bulldogs to mangle first-year head coach Jim Knowles’s ’87 home debut and run circles around a team with barely ten months of experience under Knowles’s direction. Everyone expected a woeful home start to another dismal Cornell season.

On Saturday, everyone was wrong.

The Cornell football team turned in a breathtaking performance at Schoellkopf Field, dismantling heavily-favored Yale, 19-7, in a game that no one could have hoped to predict. Junior tailback Joshua Johnston stole the spotlight from Carr, rushing for 93 net yards on 26 carries and senior place-kicker Trevor MacMeekin exercised his demons from last week to be perfect — hitting four field goals on four attempts. And while the forecast on Saturday called for only a slight chance of rain, Knowles walked off the field soaking wet — after teammates doused him in a congratulatory bucket of water.

“It is awesome,” Knowles said. “I’m so proud of our players. We’ve worked, we’ve totally changed our attitude — we played a great game across the board.”

Although not quite 25,000, the 11,835 fans at Schoellkopf on Saturday were treated to an extraordinary event: the rebirth of a football team that had not recorded a victory in 10 consecutive games. And after promising all throughout pre-season that this team was founded on expectations to win, the Red played like it truly meant it. With unbridled emotion and intensity, the squad dispatched its underdog label and laid waste to a dumfounded Yale team.

“We are extremely frustrated right now,” said Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki. “We’re never going to beat anybody if our guys do not step up to play.”

Throughout Saturday’s contest, the Red never gave Yale’s marquee names a chance to step up. Suffocating defense, well-balanced offense and errorless special teams execution allowed Cornell to control the play for virtually the entire game, finishing with almost 40 minutes of possession. A key to this dominance was the explosion of Cornell’s running game — the Red out-gained the Bulldogs on the ground by 90 yards (125 to 35).

“I have to give all the credit to the offensive line,” Johnston said. “The holes they created were huge. There were times when I wasn’t touched until I hit the safeties.”

All-Ivy senior Kevin Boothe and his trenchmates on the offensive line put forth a spectacular outing, allowing quarterback D.J. Busch plenty of time in the pocket in addition to generating lanes for Johnston and junior Andre Hardaway. The backup tailback added 40 rushing yards on 13 carries and scored the game’s only touchdown.

The Red’s line did allow two sacks, yet both of them came during a single series in the third quarter. During the rest of the game, the Red’s front four commanded the tempo.

“We knew we had to wear them down,” Boothe said. “They are a tough and talented team. [Knowles] described it as a fistfight, and we stayed tough.”

On the other side of the ball, the Red’s defense shut down a Yale offense boasting three of the league’s most potent playmakers: Carr, quarterback Alvin Cowan and wide receiver Ralph Plumb. Each aspect of Cornell’s defensive unit made critical contributions: Jonathan Lucas, Patrick Potts and Sean Nassoiy each recorded a sack for a total of 25 lost yards, the defense allowed only 181 total yards, and — perhaps most significantly — the Red silenced the Bulldogs on third down. In 14 third-down opportunities, Yale only converted one time.

“We’re here to strike back this year,” said senior defensive end Ryan Lempa. “And that’s what we are going to do.”

Another vital aspect of the Red’s victory was the resurgence of MacMeekin, who scored 12 of the Red’s 19 points on field goals. After missing two field goals and a PAT last week at Bucknell, the senior was flawless against Yale, a streak the Red hopes will continue for the entire season.

“From last week to this week, I didn’t let anything get me down,” MacMeekin said. “I told the team my job is to be perfect. [On Saturday], I was just doing my job.”

So many stars rose on Saturday that Fuertes Observatory can hardly hope to keep up. Workhouse receiver Brian Romney finished with five catches and 49 yards, senior Chad Nice kept the touchdown-scoring drive alive with a remarkable third down catch, and punter Mike Baumgartel consistently gave the Red solid field position with each kick — the senior averaged 38 yards per punt.

Now, as the taste of victory is finally relished by the Red, the team knows this is a feeling it does not wish to end. And from now on, when members of the Cornell football team say they fully expect to win, it would be a good idea to believe them.

Archived article by Kyle Sheahen
Sun Assistant Sports Editor