In the years between 1986 and 1996, the Cornell football team treated its Ivy counterparts from Boston like any true New Yorker would — with no mercy. The Red posted 11 victories over Harvard during that time span, cementing a place in the Crimson’s record books for the most consecutive wins by any opponent in Harvard’s 131-year history. However, the dreaded curse appears to have swapped victims, as the Red has found itself on the losing end of this Ivy rivalry in each of the last three meetings.
“There is a special rivalry here,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “There was a time when Cornell played its best football against Harvard. We’re trying to bring back that feeling.”
Tomorrow’s battle of Ivy unbeatens at Harvard Stadium in Cambridge is yet another key test for the Red in its quest for a league championship. The Crimson (3-0, 1-0 Ivy) boast one of the most prolific offenses in the nation, averaging 36 points per game over its first three outings. Harvard also ranks in the top 20 nationally in pass efficiency, rushing offense and scoring offense. Furthermore, the Crimson has reached double-figures in scoring in 53 out of its last 54 games — including three straight 30+ point efforts this season.
Cornell (1-2, 1-0 Ivy) features a suffocating defense and a sincere devotion to the small aspects of the game. The Red currently ranks eighth in the nation in scoring defense, having allowed an average of only 14.3 points per game thus far. In addition, the Red’s special teams unit has consistently performed well under demanding circumstances — in last week’s loss to Towson, Cornell blocked two kicks and converted its fifth straight field goal opportunity.
“We have a tremendous amount of respect for Cornell football,” said Harvard head football coach Tim Murphy. “We look at Cornell on video and think [it] is one of the most improved teams in the league.”
Despite its two non-conference losses, the Red hopes to regain some of the confidence and swagger it developed after the victory over Yale. Another monumental league victory will do just that.
“If we’re really trying to accomplish something this year, we have to go through Boston,” Knowles said. “We’ll fight, scratch, claw and kick — anything to win.”
Cornell’s defense has been preparing to face perhaps the most talented running back in the Northeast: Crimson sophomore Clifton Dawson. The speedy tailback out of Scarborough, Ont. ranks fourth in the country with nine rushing touchdowns and 54 points scored — an average of 18 points per game. Dawson has accumulated at least 100 yards in his last nine consecutive games and leads the Ivy League in rushing yards per game with 166. The 5-10, 190-pound back also has not recorded a fumble in over a year.
“We’re excited for the challenge,” senior defensive lineman Ryan Lempa said. “If we do the things we’ve been concentrating on — like being in the right position at the right time — we will be able to shut him down.”
Tomorrow will not be the first time the Red defense has faced a highly-touted back this season — against Yale, Cornell held All-Ivy running back Robert Carr to only 41 yards on 15 carries. Knowles anticipates a similar shutdown of Dawson.
“If we know we can do it once, we expect to do it every time,” Knowles said. “We’re going to have to get a lot of people to tackle [Dawson].”
Another playmaker the Red will focus on is senior quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who leads the Ancient Eight in pass efficiency rating (143.19). The Gilbert, Ariz. native has thrown for 560 yards and two touchdowns this season and has added 70 more yards and a touchdown on the ground. The Crimson is 11-3 in games Fitzpatrick starts.
No matter what the outcome of tomorrow’s marquee match-up, the game is certain to create some fireworks on both offense and defense.
“Cornell is probably one of the best defenses we will face all year,” Murphy said. “They are extremely aggressive and very sound fundamentally. It is also a very well-coached football team.”
Knowles, who played for the Red at the beginning of the 11-year winning streak, is aware of the immense weight on his squad’s shoulders after three consecutive losses to the Crimson. Last season, Cornell was shut out by Harvard, 27-0, at Schoellkopf Field. Fitzpatrick passed for two touchdowns and ran for another in the Crimson’s victory.
After the past three setbacks, is the Red looking to begin another 11-game streak?
“We’re just trying to get this one,” Knowles said.
Archived article by Kyle Sheahen
Sun Assistant Sports Editor