November 17, 2005

Football Set to Finish Strong

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While an Ivy League title is out of reach for the football team, make no mistake – the squad, according to head coach Jim Knowles ’87, will have plenty to play for when it battles Penn in Philadelphia on Saturday.

“It’s a bowl game for our underclassmen,” he said. “And it’s the Super Bowl for the seniors because you’re talking about a game two years ago where Cornell football really kind of hit bottom when they went down to Franklin Field, and now, what a great feeling it’s going to be for these guys when they win to walk off that field and know that the turnaround [is continuing].”

What Knowles is referring to is the Red’s 59-7 pounding by the Quakers in 2003, which concluded a 1-9 season for Cornell, including a winless Ivy slate.

Saturday will be the first time since the thumping that the Red will step back on the Franklin Field turf. This time, however, Cornell has a much different outlook on the game. This time, it’s not about hitting rock bottom, according to Knowles, but rather about floating back to the top.

“You’re flipping that switch from a losing mentality to a winning mentality,” he said. “Everything that goes into that is all about the confidence and belief of wanting to be the guy who has to make the play when the game is on the line, wanting to play the best teams, on the road, in front of a hostile crowd, and enjoying that experience. With a losing mentality, it’s more of a fear-based, kind of like, ‘oh, who’s going to screw it up now?'”

Obviously, part of that winning mentality will be simply an improvement in the team’s record, but part of it will also be about spectacular individual achievements.

The Red could end the season not only with two 1,000-yard rushers – sophomore tailback Luke Siwula already has 1,002, while senior quarterback Ryan Kuhn has 903 – but also with a 1,500-yard advantage in rushing yards over its opponents (currently the margin is 1,450) – a tribute to both the offensive and defensive units.

“Two 1,000-yard rushers [would be] fantastic. Our offense is fourth in the country in rushing,” Knowles said. “Our defense, which people don’t really talk about, is No. 1 in the league in total defense.”

Yet, beyond the statistics, winning is what matters most to Knowles, as the Red, with a victory on Saturday, will finish two games above .500 and can boast wins over Harvard and the Quakers in the same season for the first time since 1999.

Although Cornell has cruised to wins at Dartmouth (21-10) and at home against Columbia (57-7), a win over Penn would mean so much more to the team.

“The teams that we should beat, we’re beating them by a lot and guys are playing great,” Knowles said. “The teams that are tough, you know, we’re right there. A win against Penn would really make that transition complete.”

Although a win over the Quakers in the annual Trustees’ Cup (given to the winner of the two teams’ annual gathering since 1995) would obviously be pleasing to Cornell, it might have left the team wondering if it could have made a run at the title, as the Red held a second-half lead in two of its three Ivy losses this season. According to Knowles, not winning a title is a disappointment, but being back in the conversation is part of the turnaround.

“I think every year I coach, I’ll be disappointed if we don’t win the championship in this league,” he said. “The positives [though] are overwhelming for us right now. People are really starting to believe … ‘[they say] hey, you guys could’ve won.’ People wouldn’t have said that two years ago, now they’re saying, ‘hey, you know what, you guys can do this.’ And once you get people thinking like that, it’s only a matter of time before it happens.”

Archived article by Chris Mascaro
Sun Sports Editor