The football team played the part of the victorious underdog on Saturday night, earning a 23-21 victory over No. 23 Albany on Schoellkopf Field. However, at least one person on the sidelines saw the upset coming.
“I wanted them to appreciate being 0-2, people counting them out, and [playing] against a ranked team, because I just knew we were going to win tonight. I just had a feeling that our guys were going to respond,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87.
This confidence trickled down the ranks, resulting in a turnaround performance from the Red.
“The last two weeks we had a lot of trouble figuring out what the problem was — why we could move the ball but then just stall out in the red zone every time,” said junior tailback Luke Siwula. “I think the coaches finally figured it out. We changed it from the ‘red zone’ to the ‘green zone.’”
On the other side of the ball, it was a matter of attitude rather than semantics. However, the results were the same.
“We just came out with a different mindset today,” said sophomore safety Michael Boyd. “We came out and said, you know, let’s have fun today. Last week, we weren’t having [fun] as much and this week we did, and that’s the difference.”
These small changes had a big impact on the final box score. In a 21-9 loss to Yale last week, Cornell allowed the Bulldogs to covert 6-of-12 third downs, including all three third down situations in the fourth quarter. On Saturday night, the Red allowed Albany just 4-of-15 third downs, and held the Great Danes without a third down conversion on four chances in the final stanza.
“[The difference was] getting it off on third downs, easy as that,” Boyd said. “We got in there and we were excited — we were excited all day. Last week, it just seemed like we were down some way and we just weren’t getting off the field.”
A similar about-face occurred with the offense, which had averaged a lowly seven points per game in its first two games while averaging 410.5 total yards of offense per contest.
Against the Great Danes, the Red outmatched its third consecutive opponent in total offensive yards, posting 349 yards to Albany’s 247.
However, this time around Cornell scored its first two touchdowns of the season — a 4-yard rush from Siwula in the first quarter and a 4-yard catch by senior wide receiver Anthony Jackson in the second — and put points on the board on four of its five trips into the red zone.
“Cornell has played well, but they’ve self-destructed when they get inside the 20,” said Albany head coach Bob Ford. “I think Cornell was guilty of beating themselves a little bit in those two games. … I thought they battled really hard and did a great, great job. We knew coming in here that their backs were to the wall.”
The only Cornell misfire was on its first possession of the game, when the Red turned the ball over on downs at Albany’s 3-yard line after an incomplete pass from sophomore quarterback Nathan Ford to senior tight end Stu Homan fell short in the end zone.
“I just kind of laughed it off. I just said we’re moving the ball so well something has to happen,” Knowles said. “We’ve got a great offense. And the more confidence they gain every game it’s just going to get better and better.”
That confidence got a boost just four minutes later, when Siwula scored his ninth career touchdown.
Siwula played a key role in the win for the Red, carrying the ball 32 times for 162 yards — his eighth career game with over 100 rushing yards.
This performance contrasted with the first two games of the season, when Siwula touched the ball less than 15 times per game.
“You go into every game and every season with a game plan and we wanted to throw the ball this year and become more balanced. … We thought we could match up well to [Albany] by just running the ball and hanging in there till the end. That was the game plan tonight,” Knowles said.