October 4, 2004

Sloppy play, frequent penalties define game for both teams

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TOWSON, Md. — Cornell and Towson occupied the turf for the better part of four hours Saturday at Johnny Unitas Stadium, but, ironically, football wasn’t the highlight of the contest, which looked at times more like a rough junior varsity scrimmage than a collegiate matchup. Glimpses of talent poked through the haze of penalties and pile-ups on occasion, but play during the majority of the game’s four quarters was uninspiring and undisciplined, to the tune of 207 total penalty yards on a combined 22 infractions.

Hardly a series passed throughout the contest without the appearance of at least one yellow flag. And, by the end of the day, Cornell had amassed 10 penalties for 90 yards, while Towson earned 12 for 117 yards — including a 15-yarder for taunting following the Tigers’ third score of the win.

“We had some momentum at points but then we turned it over, and the defense couldn’t respond,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87.

Compared to the Red’s first two nearly flawless outings, over which the team accumulated only seven penalties total, Saturday’s contest made the team look like a completely different squad had donned the red and white.

“I’m disappointed with in the penalties but pleased with the effort,” Knowles said. “We weren’t ready to play in the first half, but the players never quit, and we won the second half. I thought we could play with Towson, but we made too many mistakes.”

Those mistakes cost the Red dearly, as the scoreboard reflected. At one point, Cornell had the ball near the Towson 30 yard line with two feet to go on fourth down. After a timeout, senior quarterback D.J. Busch came under center, but stepped back without the ball or a first down, after the entire offensive line surged forward. Not only did the busted play give Towson the ball, the false start penalty which accompanied it gave the Tigers five extra yards.

On several other occasions, holding penalties negated big gains by junior running backs Andre Hardaway and Joshua Johnston, or receptions from senior Chad Nice or junior Brian Romney. Moreover, the penalties effectively quashed any coherent series the Red managed to string together, bogging the team down in a quagmire, from whence it never emerged.

“We just shot ourselves in the foot with the penalties,” Romney said.

And, while certain individuals — particularly Romney, who finished with 70 receiving yards off six catches, and senior Joel Sussman, who blocked his third field goal of the year — gave exemplary performances, most of the team played lackadaisically.

Busch, despite receiving usually strong protection from his offensive line, finished the day 21-for-42 with two interceptions, Johnston and Hardaway together managed only 46 yards on the ground, and the Red’s receiving corps had butter fingers at times, dropping three balls.

“It was a hard-fought game, but I have no excuses. It’s a tough one for us to swallow,” Knowles said. “And as a coach, I see little things you can’t see from the stands that make me say, ‘We still have work to do here.'”

Towson head coach Gordy Combs also acknowledged the game’s sloppiness, saying, “We wanted to start quickly, and at first I thought we did that, but the penalties killed us. Some of them are related to bad judgement, some of them are stupid, some of them have to do with self-restraint, and we need to work on that as a team.”

Like the Red, Towson also saw its penalty total skyrocket. Last week, the Tigers had a grand total of two, but eclipsed that tally by 10 Saturday.

While Combs offered mental explanations for his team’s lapses, the root of Cornell’s penalty problems may have been physical. The sheer size and speed of Towson’s defensive unit forced Cornell’s offensive linemen to grab a little bit more cloth than usual to open holes, and speedy linebackers and corners put pressure on the horsemen as well in blitzing situations.

Three Towson players proved especially dangerous. Pro prospect defensive tackle Michael Collier weighed in a 350-pounds — a load to be reckoned with at the line of scrimmage — while defensive backAllanted Harrison leads the nation in interceptions with seven, one of which he picked up after plucking a tipped Busch pass.

“It’s hard to move Mike Collier, an we have a lot of good guys up there,” Combs quipped.

“They’re a big, physical team, especially up front,” Knowles said. “I thought we played a solid game, but we gave up a touchdown on a busted coverage, and we turned the ball over, and the defense couldn’t respond.”

As for the team’s course of action now, Knowles and his staff will have to review the game film, focusing on solving the Red’s offensive ineffectiveness and its overall woeful performance in the realm of penalties before traveling to Boston to face Harvard next weekend.

Optimistic they can accomplish those tasks, Busch said, “There are a lot of things we can take from this game to improve. We’ll be back.”

Archived article by Everett Hullverson
Sun Assistant Sports Editor