In the past two years, Cornell has found a way to come out on top each time it has faced a ranked opponent at home in Schoellkopf Stadium. This weekend, a defense inspired by the memory of deceased teammate Jaime McManamon ’07 was the Red’s ticket to a 14-7 victory on Saturday afternoon.
“I firmly believe that Jaime was our 12th man today,” said senior cornerback Matt Grant. “He helped us win that [game].”
Coming off its worst loss of the year, a 28-7 mangling by Brown (3-4, 2-2 Ivy) last weekend, the Red (3-4,1-3) handed the Tigers (6-1, 3-1) their first defeat of 2006 behind an inspired defensive effort. The win was the first in conference play for Cornell this season.
“Night and day,” Cornell head coach Jim Knowles ’87 said of the difference in the play of the Red defense from last week to this week. “I just think we have to play ranked teams in Schoellkopf every weekend, that’s all.”
The win over No. 15 Princeton gives Cornell a perfect 3-0 mark against ranked visitors since it defeated then-No. 20 Harvard, 27-13, on Oct. 8, 2005, for its first win over a top-25 team since joining Division I-AA in 1982.
And while knocking off a ranked opponent gave the Red reason to smile, it was the fact that McManamon’s family was in attendance and able to step onto the field with senior captains Anthony Macaluso, Jonathan Lucas, and Jeff Dicks — an honorary captain wearing McManamon’s No. 57 — that gave the win added significance.
“To be able to give the game ball to Jaime McManamon’s family, it’s a great experience,” Knowles said as he sat in the post-game press conference holding a white baseball cap with “Jaime Mac’s Crew” stitched in red letters on the back. “It’s something our guys will remember forever.”
Grant, who intercepted a pass from Princeton quarterback Jeff Terrell on the Cornell 8-yard line with 22 seconds left in the game to seal the win, couldn’t have agreed more.
“Jaime was one of the best people I’ve ever known,” Grant said. “The way he just loved to live — he loved life, he played the game the way it was supposed to be played, he loved his family, and for them to be in attendance, it was really an emotional win for me and to be able to make a play at the end like that, I was so happy for them. I ran over to Mr. McManamon and gave him a hug and told him I love him, and I loved his family, because they’re the reason that we had that extra energy today.”
The defensive intensity was noticeable from the start, as the Red held the Tigers to just 69 total yards of offense in the first half. Sophomore safety Tim Bax set up the first Cornell score by returning an interception 41 yards to the Princeton 1-yard line with 4:30 left in the second quarter.
“We knew what we had to do — play assignment football, everybody basically take care of us, don’t let the offense dictate what we’re going to do,” Grant said. “And really, we just had guys making plays all over the field.”
That continued into the second half, when junior linebacker Ryan Blessing helped force a fumble that was recovered by classmate Doug Lempa to put a stop to a Princeton possession with under four minutes left in the game. Dicks was also a force for the Red, making his first sack of the season a big one, taking down Terrell 11 yards behind the line of scrimmage in the fourth quarter and forcing the fumble Lempa recovered. Sophomores Gus Krimm and Michael Boyd also contributed, as Krimm had a nine tackles and Boyd had eight.
“[Brown] was a very tough loss for our entire team,” Blessing said. “We were fired up all week long and we came out and we really wanted to play with passion this week and make sure we made the plays that we weren’t making against Brown.”
Cornell was able to neutralize one of the most effective quarterbacks in the league.
“I thought we adjusted well in the second half, but again, we just didn’t put enough consecutive plays together to get the drive in. … Cornell was always able to come up with a good third-down play or a fourth-down play to stop us,” said Princeton head coach Roger Hughes.