On a day when Cornell’s offense failed to sustain any long drives and relied on one big play to score, the Red’s defense delivered arguably its best performance of the season, stopping Dartmouth cold for most of the contest and contributing a score of its own toward Cornell’s 14-7 win. But for Dartmouth’s long scoring pass, Cornell kept the Green in check, allowing it just 14 net rushing yards and seven first downs. Senior Nate Tarsi’s 50-yard fumble recovery, the unit’s first score of the season, stole the show, however, and proved to be the game’s decisive play.
Dartmouth’s defense recorded similar statistics against the Red, which ironically amassed fewer total yards than the Green. The only difference between the two units, in fact, came in the form of turnovers, and Cornell won that battle, 3-1.
“The defense was one play away from having an absolutely perfect game,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “On offense, there’s still a lot of work to be done, and today it seemed like it was hard for us to get into a rhythm. I don’t know why we can’t run the ball, but the quarterback rotation seems to be successful for us.”
Stymied time after time, Cornell’s running attack failed to gain more than five yards on any play and most often saw attempts stopped at the line of scrimmage. Junior Josh Johnston, starting at running back, finished with 42 net yards on 30 carries — an average of 1.4 yards per carry. The figures were Johnston’s lowest this season, and neither Knowles nor Dartmouth head coach John Lyons had ever seen such paltry rushing statistics.
“Neither team could get going running the ball. Both teams have been playing solid up front,” Lyons said. “That’s the best we’ve played against the run in a while.”
But while Cornell’s lackluster ground game failed to inspire much in the team or the crowd, Tarsi’s touchdown drew elation on the sideline and cheers from the stands.
After catching a pass from the Green’s quarterback Dan Shula, wideout Andrew Hall took a bruising hit from Cornell’s senior co-captain Brad Kitlowski, who had zeroed in on the receiver from his strong safety spot. In the collision, Kitlowski knocked the ball from Hall’s grasp, and Tarsi recovered it and ran half the field into the end zone.
“Defense is fun to play when coaches call plays that put you in the action,” Tarsi said. Tarsi’s touchdown made the difference in the game. With the exception of one long pass play for each squad, neither team found the end zone or the uprights again.
Nonetheless, the stellar defensive effort, and the unit’s zealous play pleased Knowles.
“Today, we gave up one big play,” Knowles said, referencing Bob Murphy’s 73 yard third-quarter touchdown reception. “But [the defense] was foaming at the mouth to get back in the game, because they think ‘we can make a big play.’ We’ve been making a lot of big plays on defense this season, but we really felt we were due for this.”
Such a dominating defensive performance resulted from the hard work Knowles, his staff, and players have put in over the course of the season.
“I’ve always believed that if you play great defense, you can stay in every game,” Knowles said.
As for the victory’s broader meaning, it marks the first time since the 2002 season that Cornell has strung together back-to-back wins. Moreover, the victory put Cornell in sole possession of third place among the Ancient Eight and ensured that this year’s seniors will leave with a winning record at Schoellkopf.
“We talked a lot about the seniors and being able to win at home,” Knowles said of the team’s preparation for this weekend. “Now they’re guaranteed a winning record at home. They can say they made Schoellkopf a hard place to play in.”
Archived article by Everett Hullverson
Sun Assistant Sports Editor