One year ago, the rivalry between Cornell and Penn didn’t exactly live up to its billing. In the ninth edition of the Trustees’ Cup game between the long-time football foes, the Quakers embarrassed the Red with a 59-7 drubbing on Franklin Field. The teams looked like teams that didn’t belong on the same field as each other, let alone as partners in an historic rivalry. These were two squads going in opposite directions, it seemed. Penn was on a roll, using the win to cap off a perfect season and its second consecutive Ivy League championship. With the loss, Cornell fell to 1-9, including 0-7 in conference, the team’s worst record in 28 years. This year, things are a little different.
Under first-year head coach Jim Knowles ’87, Cornell has staged an historic turnaround, becoming only the second team in the history of the Ivy League to post a winning conference record the season after going winless. No. 22 Penn, on the other hand, has proved that it is fallible, as it lost its first Ivy League game since 2001 last week against Harvard.
Though Penn must still be considered the class of the Ancient Eight, remarkably, the Red could finish the season tied with the Quakers for second in the league with a win tomorrow.
“I think it all starts with Coach Knowles,” said Penn head coach Al Bagnoli. “He’s instilled a tremendous amount of passion back in the program. He’s got his kids playing as hard as any team in this league, and he’s got them playing with confidence. Not only are they sound in what they do, but they are playing with tremendous confidence. Right now they’re on a real role and in this league once you get a little confidence, good things tend to happen. It’s a just a tribute to Jim and his staff, and the kids buying into everything that he’s preaching.”
Not that a victory against Penn will come easily tomorrow.
The Quakers have talent up and down their roster, including some very powerful weapons on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Pat McDermott — who missed last weeks’ game against Harvard and remains questionable for tomorrow — ranks 30th in Division I-AA in total offense, with 226.9 yards per game. Wide receiver Dan Castles ranks second in the Ivy League in receptions, third in receiving yards, and sixth in scoring this year.
Punter Josh Appell is first in the Ancient Eight with 40.9 yards per punt.
“They’re just a solid ballclub from top to bottom, they’ll be a great challenge for us,” Knowles said. “their tradition still helps them find ways to win ballgames. They might have come back to the pack but they’re still winning.”
But despite individual statistics, the Quakers have had trouble this year putting points on the board. They have been held to 20 points or fewer in all but one Ivy game this year, including a season-low in last week’s 31-10 loss to Harvard.
“We just have to start playing better on offense. We’re keeping the defense out, the defense is playing reasonably well, we just have to make some more plays,” Bagnoli said. “We haven’t made enough big plays when they’ve presented themselves to us, and our ability to make plays will determine our ability to put points on the board.”
The Red enters the game following the largest comeback in program history last week against Columbia. Trailing 26-7 with 10 minutes remaining, the Red reeled off 25 points in the last 9:33 of the game to emerge with a 32-26 victory. The win broke a nine-game road losing streak for the Red and guaranteed the team’s seniors a winning Ivy League record to end their careers.
The chance to end the season on a high note has provided added incentive for the Red, which will also be looking to avenge last season’s 59-7 loss in Philadelphia.
“They talk about it now and again,” Knowles said. “I don’t talk about it much because I wasn’t here. I didn’t watch that game, I don’t want to.”
Much must go right for Cornell tomorrow, but the team is confident that when it walks out of Schoellkopf tomorrow for the last time in 2004, it will have accomplished what it set out to do.
“We want to play our football game,” said senior co-captain Brad Kitlowski. “It doesn’t matter who they are or what they do. We just have to be the ones that when we’re in position to make plays, we have to do it.”
Archived article by Owen Bochner
Sun Sports Editor