LEWISBURG, Pa. — The game speed of the regular season hit the Red like a mack truck on Saturday night, as Cornell dropped its first game of the 2006 campaign by a score of 20-5 to Bucknell at Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium. After sophomore Shane Kilcoyne fumbled the opening kickoff because of a hard hit from Bucknell linebacker Dorian Petersen, the Red struggled to gain any momentum until it was too late, putting them behind the eight-ball for most of the game.
[img_assist|nid=18353|title=Cant quite reach|desc=Senior wide receiver Anthony Jackson (8) reaches for an errant pass as Bucknell’s Matt Palermo (33) defends during the Red’s 20-5 loss at Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium in Lewisburg, Pa., Saturday night.|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=64]
The game proved to be similar to a game two years ago when the Red (0-1) visited Bucknell (2-1, 0-1 Patriot League) in the 2004 season opener, losing a 16-9 heartbreaker. Although it was a 49-yard pass and a 21-yard run that knocked out the Red in the 2004 meeting, it was an offensive and defensive assault in the first quarter that put the Red down this Saturday. Bucknell outscored Cornell, 17-3, in the first frame as the two teams played relatively even football for the last three quarters.
“All night it was hard to find that spark,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “When you fumble the opening kickoff, it’s hard to get the momentum. We needed to make some plays and give our guys some confidence. We started rolling there late in the game but it just wasn’t enough.”
One bright spot for the Red was junior tailback Luke Siwula, who ran for 105 yards on 13 carries in the game. Kilcoyne also added 74 yards on the ground as Cornell found success in the run game, accumulating 234 yards rushing. In his first collegiate start, sophomore quarterback Nathan Ford went 18-of-36 for 202 yards passing. The lone negative aspect of his performance was in the red zone, where he threw one of his two interceptions. Despite this, Knowles was impressed with his play.
“I thought [Ford] played well,” Knowles said. “He managed the offense and our wide receivers had some drops. You need some things to go right and it just didn’t happen. We weren’t veteran enough to play through the dropped passes.”
For Bucknell, quarterback Andrew Lair ran for 77 yards and a touchdown. Running back Peter Kaufman also had 54 yards on the ground.
“It was a tremendous effort by our players today,” said Bucknell head coach Tim Landis. “Over the last year a lot of what I have said hasn’t worked, but this year I’ve made it important that we practice hard. Watching practice this week, I was impressed with our guys with how hard they worked. … The guys bought into the game plan and everything came to fruition today.”
After Bucknell recovered Kilcoyne’s fumble at the Cornell 24-yard line, Lair directed an attack that gained 23 yards in four carries. The quarterback capped the drive with a 1-yard run of his own, and Will Carney added the extra point to put the Bison ahead, 7-0. The Red managed to answer on its next possession, as junior Peter Zell converted a 35-yard field goal — the first of his career — to cut the lead to four. However, Bucknell pushed its lead to seven once more when Carney’s field goal attempt from 40 yards out on the following possessing was true.
A 15-yard kickoff return by senior wide receiver Anthony Jackson put the Red on its own 22-yard line with 5:45 left in the first quarter. The Cornell offense came to a halt, however, when Petersen forced a fumble by sophomore Jesse Baker at the Bucknell 33-yard line. The Red answered a 32-yard scramble by Lair with a tackle from junior Michael Boyd for a 7-yard loss, but that success was short-lived as Peter Kaufman ran 41 yards for a touchdown on the next play as time ran out in the first quarter. After Carney’s third attempt of the night split the uprights, the Bison led, 17-3.
After forcing the Red to punt on its first possession in the second quarter, the Bison drove 54 yards on eight plays before Carney was called upon for a 24-yard field goal, pushing the Bucknell lead to 20-3.
The Bison came out with a vengeance, racking up over 200 yards of total offense in the first half. The option run by Bucknell was something the Red had problems with all night, especially after several Cornell players often cramped up on the defensive side of the ball. Injuries and penalties also took their toll as senior defensive tackle Jeff Dicks had to come off in the first quarter.
“It was tough seeing Jeff go down,” said senior tri-captain Jonathan Lucas. “I’ve been with him now for four years and he’s an integral part of this team. We had some younger guys fill in and play well though. That can only be a plus for later in the season when these guys step in.”
Despite converting only 4-of-16 third downs and committing four turnovers, the Cornell offense did seem to find its rhythm late in the game. Ford’s favorite target was Baker, who caught four passes for 46 yards to lead all Red wide receivers.
“There, late, I got some confidence,” Ford said. “I definitely feel comfortable with the offense. There were some dark spots today but there were some bright ones as well. We’re definitely down, but we know all the mistakes that put us away were on us. We’ll fix them up.”
The Red had a chance to put a dent in the Bison’s lead at 8:47 in the third quarter, but Zell’s field goal attempt from 44 yards misfired and fell well short. Cornell crept within striking distance near the end of the third stanza, but Brigham Farrand intercepted a pass from Ford at the Bucknell 1-yard line and returned it 36 yards down the field.
A snap that sailed over Ford’s head when the Red was on Bucknell’s 6-yard line late in the fourth quarter resulted in a 29-yard loss for Cornell and the loss of another scoring opportunity. The lone points of the second half came when the Red earned a team safety with 1:24 left in the game.