From the start of his tenure, making Schoellkopf Field a dangerous destination for visiting teams has been an integral part of head coach Jim Knowles’ ’87 agenda for guiding Cornell into the upper echelon of Ivy League football. On Saturday, Knowles and the Red (2-2, 1-1 Ivy) gave notice that no opponent – even the defending Ivy League champion – is invincible against the home team with a 27-13 victory over No. 20 Harvard (2-2, 1-1 Ivy) at Schoellkopf Field.
The victory marks the first time that the Red has earned a win from a ranked opponent since joining Division I-AA in 1982, and also the first time this year’s senior class has beaten the Crimson.
“I don’t like to think that Harvard’s coming back down the pack,” Rex said. “I like to look at it as Cornell’s back, we can play against anybody.”
Cornell forced the Crimson into five turnovers and limited Harvard’s primary offensive weapon, All-American running back Clifton Dawson, to 39 yards on 24 carries. Senior safety Joel Sussman had a game-high 18 tackles, including two for a loss, while junior defensive lineman Ryan Kiscadden added 10 tackles and senior safety Kevin Rex contributed nine tackles and one interception to lead the defensive effort.
Harvard’s defense was not as effective, as the Red rushed for 148 yards and gained another 106 through the air. Senior quarterback Ryan Kuhn had 47 yards and one touchdown on the ground, and completed 9-of-19 passes, including one for another touchdown. Senior wide receiver Brian Romney caught five passes for 76 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown reception, while sophomore tailback Luke Siwula rushed for 86 yards and a touchdown.
Cornell received key contributions from many sources including senior cornerback Jason Cloyd, who notched three tackles, one interception, and one fumble in his return to the starting lineup. Special teams also stepped up for the Red, as sophomore Michael Bolling averaged 40.7 yards on six punts, including a career-best 53-yarder, and senior A.J. Weitsman was perfect on the day with two field goals.
The Red showed no early jitters about taking on Harvard. After Dawson fumbled the ball on the Crimson’s first play, quarterback Liam O’Hagan recovered it – only to turn it over two plays later, when his pass was intercepted by Rex and returned to the Harvard 21-yard line. The Red offense took the field, and Kuhn found Romney, who ran into the end zone on his first snap of the game.
“[The first few minutes] just gets everybody on one page, everybody believing. I turned around and we didn’t have many fans in the stands, but it felt like that place was packed because people were jumping up and down,” Rex said. “To start a game like that, we just took the wind out of their sails early.”
Cornell made sure that Harvard did not regain its composure, forcing a turnover or a punt on the Crimson’s first 13 possessions and holding them scoreless until the fourth quarter. The Red held Harvard to four plays or less on 10 of these possessions and limited the Crimson to eight yards or less on 10 possessions.
“The last five and half quarters we’ve played are among the worst we’ve played in an incredibly long time. We certainly know that if there’s one thing that’s contributed to it, it’s turnovers, but it’s not the only thing,” said Harvard head coach Tim Murphy. “They out-played us, they out-physicalled us, and that’s really a disappointment to me, because we pride ourselves so much on being a tough, physical, aggressive team.”
One of those punts, coming at the end of Harvard’s first possession in the second quarter, set up Cornell’s second scoring drive. Kuhn and Siwula went to work on the Harvard defense, rushing for 23 and 52 yards, respectively, as the Red marched down the field for its second touchdown – a career-high, 28-yard rush up the middle by Siwula, as Cornell went ahead, 14-0.
On the following kickoff return, junior wide receiver Patrick Blakemore forced Harvard’s Steve Williams to fumble the ball, which was recovered by freshman defensive back Tim Bax at the Harvard 23-yard line. Four plays later, Weitsman scored on a 38-yard field goal attempt, pushing the Red’s lead to 17 at halftime.
The teams battled through a scoreless third quarter that featured seven punts and one Cornell turnover. However, late in the period, Cloyd forced a Harvard fumble on another punt return which was recovered by junior defensive end Matt Darby. The ensuing Cornell possession carried into the fourth quarter, and ended with Weitsman’s second field goal of the afternoon – this one, a 21-yard effort.
After a Cornell personal foul and a 15-yard penalty was called on a punt return, Harvard set up on the Red’s 48-yard line. Over the next 12 plays, O’Hagan rushed for 26 yards on three carries and Dawson rushed for 22 yards on seven carries – capped off with a touchdown run from one yard out with 8:35 remaining in the game, making the score 20-7.
Junior wide receiver Anthony Jackson responded with a 29-yard punt return, positioning the Red for its final scoring drive of the game. Kuhn took control on this possession, making a third-and-five, 31-yard pass to Romney and then faking a hand-off and making a six-yard run into the end zone. “[Kuhn] seemed very efficient, and he made the big play, the big pass when we needed it to spark us when the running game was struggling,” Knowles said.
Harvard refused to give up, however, battling the Red down the field and converting on two third downs and one fourth down over 48 yards before O’Hagan ran four yards into the end zone with less than a minute left in the game. Cornell answered with a final big play of its own, as Kiscadden blocked Matt Schindel’s extra point attempt to hold Harvard to 13 points on the day.
“We played start to finish one of the best games I’ve ever been around, and you could tell from the start with special teams,” Knowles said. “This week was play more from our heart, less from our brain, and that’s what we talked about with the team.”
Archived article by Olivia Dwyer
Sun Assistant Sports Editor