Entering Saturday’s game against Colgate, the football team had lost 10 straight games to its central New York rival, with its last victory coming way back in 1992. But, behind a strong effort on both sides of the ball and a raucous Homecoming crowd, the Red cruised to a decisive 38-14 win over the Raiders, improving its record in to 2-3 on the season (0-2 Ivy).
“If you’re going to build a program, you’ve got to win on Homecoming,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “That’s the time you really want to be able to put it all together.”
In its three losses this year, Cornell has been outscored in the first quarter by a combined 25 points. However, on Saturday, the Red jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, capitalizing on a pair of costly Colgate turnovers.
“That’s the pride of our defense — getting turnovers, making big plays,” said junior cornerback Colin Nash. “In the first half, we really came out and did that and gave the offense a good shot to do what they did.”
[img_assist|nid=18961|title=First timer|desc=Sophomore wide receiver Jesse Baker (2) steps into the end zone to score his first career touchdown after catching a 37-yard pass in the football team’s 38-14 win over Colgate on Saturday.|link=popup|align=left|width=100|height=90]
After the two teams traded punts to begin the first quarter, sophomore Tim Bax recovered a fumble by the Raiders’ Morgan Davis, handing the ball back to the Cornell offense with a short field on the 33-yard line. Two plays later, sophomore quarterback Nathan Ford connected with junior tailback Luke Siwula for a 24-yard touchdown pass.
“[Running backs] coach Zac Roper guaranteed coach Knowles and all the other coaches this week that [the backside screen pass] would go for a touchdown,” Siwula said. “It’s really something they don’t expect. It was a great call on third-and-1. We were able to ride the momentum from that and not look back from there.”
On Colgate’s very next possession, quarterback Mike Saraceno was intercepted by sophomore defensive lineman Graham Rihn and following a 39-yard return, the Red once again found itself in Colgate territory at the 36-yard line. Cornell took advantage of the field position, as Ford capped off the 7-play drive with a 5-yard touchdown run.
“[Defensive line] coach [Pete] DeStefano wrote a prediction on the board that we would finally get a d-lineman to have an interception this year,” Knowles said. “He promised to buy everyone dinner if it didn’t happen. It happened, so I’m out a dinner, but Im glad for Graham. I like the way he ran with the ball afterward too. That was great.”
Ford finished the afternoon with 10 rushes for 38 yards on the ground, while completing 9-of-17 passes for 144 yards through the air, including a combined four touchdowns (two rushing, two passing). However, he was overshadowed for much of the afternoon by Siwula, who once again was a monster running the football for the Red, carrying the ball 29 times for 145 yards and a score.
Colgate cut Cornell’s lead to six early in the second quarter on a 1-yard run by Jordan Scott and a two-point conversion by Saraceno. However, that was as close as the Raiders would get, as the Red offense responded immediately with a 37-yard touchdown pass from Ford to classmate Jesse Baker, extending the lead to 21-8. Baker had the best game of his young career, hauling in four passes for 80 yards.
Junior Peter Zell added a 24-yard field goal with 11 seconds to go in the first half, giving the Red a 16-point advantage heading into intermission.
After halftime, the Red delivered the crushing blow, never allowing Colgate to climb back into the contest. On the second possession of the third quarter, the Red embarked on an 11-play, 57-yard drive, culminating in Ford’s second touchdown run of the game. Cornell did not throw a single pass on the drive, instead relying on its offensive line to pave the way for the rushing attack. Siwula was called upon for nine straight runs to begin the drive, collecting 56 yards in setting up his quarterback for the score.
“They were very physical on the offensive line. I think it was kind of a mismatch, which is unusual for us,” said Colgate head coach Dick Biddle.
The two squads exchanged touchdowns in the fourth quarter, with the Red’s coming on a 20-yard scamper from Siwula. In its three losses this year, the Red has scored only 37 points, a mark the squad eclipsed on Saturday alone.
However, the Red’s defensive effort was equally important to its second victory of the season. Colgate managed 351 yards of total offense, but 160 of those yards came on the final four possessions of the contest, when the Red dropped back into a prevent defense. The Raiders never were able to establish the running game, as Scott was limited to just 42 yards on 17 carries.
The Red played inspired football on Saturday, and the victory carried even more weight for the team since it came on Homecoming, in front of hundreds of alumni and even more students.
“At the team meal this morning, we had 75 friends with us,” Knowles said. “We were just talking about the circle of life. We stole some scenes from the Lion King. We talked about Schoellkopf being our Pride Rock. We all marched up the street together. When you can go into the game with that kind of mindset — our hearts were full of love for Cornell — it’s amazing that all of a sudden, you start making plays.”