Despite being eliminated from contention for the Ivy League championship, make no mistake about it – the football team still has plenty to play for. With only one game remaining on its schedule – a battle with Penn at Franklin Field tomorrow – the Red (5-4, 3-3 Ivy) has an opportunity to post its best record since 1999 and continue its turnaround from the laughing stock of the conference to a perennial contender.
“Since we are not going to win the championship this year – which was our goal – everything is about just getting better and finding a way to move the program forward,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “It’s a chance to win our second road game against a quality opponent at at place where Cornell struggled as little as two years ago.”
The game that Knowles referred to was the finale of the 2003 campaign, when the Quakers ran all over the Red in Philadelphia, 59-7. The contest was former head coach Tim Pendergast’s final game at Cornell, as his squad finished the season with a winless Ivy record.
However, since then, the two programs have been headed in opposite directions. Penn captured the Ivy League crown in 2003 and finished second last year – but the Quakers have suffered three league losses this season and are tied with the Red for fifth place in the standings.
“We have a very tough team on the road [tomorrow],” Knowles said. “Penn has had a couple losses. They’re struggling. But, they still have a tremendous history and it’s at Franklin Field, and they are still going to be a very difficult opponent.”
Tomorrow’s game will also be the last for the Red seniors, who have not beaten Penn in their collegiate careers. Each year, the winner between these two squads captures the Trustees’ Cup, a tradition established in 1995. Unfortunately for Cornell, the Quakers have emerged victorious in 8-of-10 rivalry games, with the Red last winning in 1999. Last season, Penn edged Cornell 20-14 in a very competitive contest, as Cornell was in position to win on its final drive.
“We weren’t outmatched against Penn last year, but there was that little flip – they knew how to win and we kind of didn’t,” Knowles said. “Now’s a chance for us to show that we’ve changed that.”
The Red is looking to extend its winning streak to three, as it has posted convincing victories over Dartmouth and Columbia in the last two weekends. Even though the team was out of the chase for the Ivy title, the squad’s determination has not diminished.
“I am really happy with the effort the last two weeks,” Knowles said. “It’s been a very consistent execution of our system. We are playing with great intensity. [We are] really playing winning football across the board.”
The Red will most certainly try to establish its running game tomorrow, as the squad ranks first in the Ivies in rushing yards. Sophomore tailback Luke Siwula has already surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the season, while senior quarterback Ryan Kuhn needs just 97 to do the same. However, the Quakers have allowed only 99.3 yards per game on the ground, good enough for third in the league.
“Our offensive line will be challenged. Penn has a very very stout run defense,” Knowles said. “It’s going to be our run game against their rushing defense, which will have a major determination on the outcome of the ballgame.”
As for the defense, the Red will have to contend with senior Pat McDermott, who has posted 188.1 passing yards per game this year. However, the Red counters with second-ranked scoring defense in the conference, giving up a league-best 273.8 yards per contest.
However, the statistics only tell part of the story. With the game serving as the last for both squads’ seniors, there should be a fair share of emotion on the field.
“Our state of mind is business-like, but emotional because it is the last week for our seniors,” Knowles said. “But there is no fear or doubt – more what you’d think you would see from a winning program heading into the last game.”
Archived article by Bryan Pepper
Sun Assistant Sports Editor