It is said that defense wins games: if the other team doesn’t score, it can’t beat you. But for Cornell on Saturday, an efficient aerial attack, fortuitous special-teams play, and an invigorated spirit served as the Red’s keys to the door of victory.
While the defense played as well as it has all season — Princeton gained only 69 yards on the ground and 260 in the air — junior quarterback Ryan Kuhn’s arm and the sure hands of junior receiver Brian Romney and senior wideout Chad Nice, along with the extended fingertips of junior defensive lineman Matt Pollock, most impacted the game’s outcome. All the players, however, deserve credit for shaking the lingering self-doubt instilled by the dearth of wins for the program in the past several years.
“The one thing we asked players was to open their hearts to give themselves the chance to win again. Their hearts had become so calloused, that they weren’t putting themselves out there,” said Cornell head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “You’ll never reach your full potential unless you really open your heart to the possibilities — and we did.”
“We really needed to win that, and we hadn’t had that feeling since Yale,” added senior co-captain Ryan Lempa. “We’re going to keep doing it for the next three weeks.”
Kuhn, starting only his second game for the Red, finished the day with two touchdowns, 208 passing yards, and no interceptions. He also gained 23 yards on the ground, displaying his mobility out of the pocket and evading rushers when necessary. Both of Kuhn’s scoring passes were directed at Romney, who caught the first touchdown of his Cornell career to open scoring in the first quarter.
The pass, a 54-yard bullet, hit Romney in the numbers as his slid across the field on a post pattern. After beating the safety over the middle, Romney got the ball and cut toward the goal line, beating the last Tiger on the field before hitting the end zone.
“It felt really good,” Romney said. “The quarterback did an excellent job. The wide receiver corps stepped up and made plays.”
Kuhn also facilitated Romney’s second score — a 24-yarder coming with 6:20 left in the third quarter. This time, Romney made the play using strength and speed, as he had to wrestle the ball from the defender in the end zone to make the reception and get the score. That tally put Cornell up, 14-7.
“It’s nice to know we’ve established a guy who manages the offense well,” Knowles said, referring to Kuhn.
Princeton head coach Roger Hughes also praised Cornell’s offense, saying: “They threw at our best guy and beat him.”
Senior D.J. Busch also got into the mix on several occasions throughout the course of the matchup and finished with one touchdown and 112 yards passing on five attempts. The lone score came on one of the day’s longest plays, a 79-yard strike to Nice.
“Hats of to D.J.,” Knowles said. “We gave out two game balls … one of them went to D.J. Busch.”
Though the passing game put Cornell on the board, Pollock’s blocked extra point kept Princeton from adding a tally to its score and may have been the game’s biggest play.
Following the Tigers’ touchdown, Pollock and Lempa lined and fought for position, with Pollock reaching up at just the right moment to nip the ball and kill the point-after attempt.
“Coach [Peter] Stefano always expects full blast and high intensity,” Pollock said. “We were doing a middle block, and we just pushed as much as we could. I put my hand up at the last second.”
While the win gave Cornell one more win on its schedule, thus eclipsing last year’s dismal one-victory campaign, the most important outcome for the Red was renewed spirit and attitude about the game. Whereas big plays were recognized with limited sideline enthusiasm in the past, the Cornell bench looked animated and sounded loud during Saturday’s game.
And, whereas a veritable losing psychosis had afflicted the team since the 2003 season, this game marked the first time in over a year that the Red had completely exorcised its self-defeating demons.
“This week was legacy week. We told the seniors that we realize we probably won’t win the Ivy League. But our goals were to win in the Ivy League and play well at home,” Knowles said. “We’ve played well at home for three games now. And you could see it in the sidelines. There was one missing piece before: there was never any sideline cheering. Today we had that when we had big plays.”
Combined, the team’s invigorated spirit and improved play gave it a winning edge, one it will carry into next week’s contest against Dartmouth.
Archived article by Everett Hullverson
Sun Assistant Sports Editor