PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Every team plays to win, and — for the first half of Saturday’s game against Brown, at least — Cornell’s gridders played like a squad destined for that outcome. The latter two quarters of the contest told a different story, however, and the Red (1-5, 1-2 Ivy) found itself on the losing end of its third straight contest, falling, 21-17, to the Bears.
Despite scoring first and entering halftime with a 10-7 lead, Cornell’s offense continually quashed any auspicious drives, and the defensive unit allowed Brown’s star running back Nick Hartigan to pound the ball on the ground, while wide receiver Jarret Schreck launched an air assault, giving Brown field position, scores, and the victory.
“We were fighting for our lives in the first half, and I was calm,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “Then, when the second half rolled around, it looked like we just weren’t making plays. Now we’re 1-5.”
The loss came in spite of several Cornell lineup changes designed to spark the team to victory. Junior Ryan Kuhn got the nod under center and finished 14-of-24 with one interception and 121 yards passing, while junior Josh Johnston — who had missed the team’s last two games due to injury — also returned and finished with 76 yards on the ground. Defensively, sophomore Matt Grant replaced senior Sean Nassoiy at corner, and junior A.J. Weitsman took over kicking duties from senior Trevor MacMeekin.
“I can’t evaluate the lineup changes until after I see the film,” Knowles said. “But we still lost the game. It felt like the same team.”
The first quarter saw Cornell get on the board first, when Weitsman booted a 40-yard field goal with under four minutes remaining in the quarter. Brown jumped on board next with a score of its own, as Matthew Krevis caught a 19-yard pass from quarterback Anthony Vita with 9:21 left in the half. Krevis, a tight end, got the ball on the near sideline off an out route, and senior whip Kevin Rex could not bring down the lumbering receiver, who put the ball into the end zone.
But the Red rebounded with a scoring drive that put the team ahead going into the locker room. The offense got the ball after Grant intercepted a pass, running 50 yards to the Brown 19 before being brought down. Johnston pounded the pigskin up the gut, taking the ball nearly to the goal line. On third and goal from only inches out, Kuhn snuck in for the score, and Weitsman hit the extra point to make it 10-7 Cornell with 46 seconds on the clock.
Following the halftime break, the momentum which had carried the Red to the lead in the first half eluded the team in the second. After junior wide receiver Brian Romney’s diving catch was ruled out of bounds on the far sideline, Kuhn took a coverage sack, and Cornell quickly found itself backed up with few options. On fourth down of the series, senior Mike Baumgartel — usually one of the team’s most reliable players — misplayed a punt, and the ball only traveled 18 yards, giving Brown excellent field position.
The defense held, and Brown relinquished control, but the boon proved immaterial, as Kuhn again got sacked and then threw a double-coverage interception in the end zone.
As luck had it, Brown also failed to capitalize on the turnover. Hartigan fumbled on the Bears’ first play of the series after Rex nosed the ball out.
This time, Cornell made the possession count. Kuhn, on a delayed run, scanned the field reading his receivers then took off up the middle, splitting the Brown defense for 23 yards and the touchdown.
But in a meltdown similar to the kind which plagued the team last season, Cornell failed to put any more points on the board and allowed penalties, miscues, and missed opportunities to doom it.
“As players, we just weren’t finishing. We weren’t making plays when we needed to,” said senior defensive lineman Ryan Lempa.
Brown, on the other hand, gathered steam with each drive and finished stronger than it started. Hartigan finished with 88 yards on 24 carries, and Vita had 219 yards passing and two touchdowns. The prime target of those passes was the receiver wearing number one, Schreck, who amassed 90 yards on only five grabs.
“We punted too many times in the first half but couldn’t get things going,” said Brown head coach Phil Estes. “In the second half, I said to Anthony [Vita], ‘We’re going to throw downfield, make plays, use screens to mix it up. It worked.”
The loss was particularly disappointing for Knowles, who left the game feeling unsure of how to correct the team’s skid.
“I felt of all the games we’ve played this year, we looked like a first-year staff and a first-year program more than any,” he said. “We couldn’t hold a lead when we got it. That signals immaturity in terms of being winners. There’s so much baggage that we’ve not been able to shake out.”
Archived article by Everett Hullverson
Sun Assistant Sports Editor