After arguably its worst defeat under Jim Knowles ’87 just one week ago, the football team may have given its head coach his greatest victory. Facing an undefeated Princeton squad that held a share of the lead in the race for an Ivy League championship, the Red once again defended its home turf, holding on for a 14-7 win over the No. 15 Tigers. Cornell has now knocked off two ranked opponents at home this season and three over the past two years. The Red also improved its home record to 3-1, compared to a 0-3 mark on the road.
“You go through probably our worst half since I’ve been here [against Brown], where we just did not play. And here, we played a whole entire game,” Knowles said. “I’m really proud of our guys.”
[img_assist|nid=19321|title=Giant killers|desc=Junior linebacker Doug Lempa (51) helps his teammates bring down the Princeton ball carrier in the second quarter of the Red’s 14-7 win over the Tigers Saturday afternoon on Schoellkopf Field. (Robert Bonow / Sun Photo Editor)|link=popup|align=right|width=100|height=72]
On offense, sophomore quarterback Nathan Ford went 9-for-15 with one interception for a total of 125 yards and one touchdown pass for Cornell. Sophomore wide receiver Zac Canty was his most frequent target, catching seven passes for 93 yards and scoring a touchdown after catching a 40-yard pass. Junior Luke Siwula led the ground attack, toting the pigskin 25 times for 98 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown run.
The Red defense caused three turnovers, with sophomore safety Tim Bax and senior cornerback Matt Grant nabbing interceptions. Sophomore Gus Krimm led Cornell with nine tackles and one forced fumble, while senior Jeff Dicks had three tackles — including a sack for an 11-yard loss — and forced another fumble.
Princeton quarterback Jeff Terrell was 14-for-32 with two interceptions in the loss, throwing four passes to Jake Staser for a total of 73 yards. R.C. Lagomarsino was the Tigers’ most effective weapon on the ground, amassing 82 yards on 10 carries. Princeton was paced on the defensive side by Tim Boardman, who had 15 tackles.
The contest proved to be a defensive struggle throughout, with neither team able to string together a consistent offensive attack. The game was scoreless through the first quarter of play, as the two teams compiled 79 yard of total offense, including only 17 for the Tigers (6-1, 3-1 Ivy). The defensive effort was fitting, as Cornell (3-4, 1-3) honored former defensive lineman Jaime McManamon ’07, who passed away during the spring of 2004.
“As far as our defense, we came out and played with a lot of energy,” Grant said. “At home, it’s easy to conjure up that energy. We came out inspired.”
In the Red’s first drive of the second quarter, the offense marched 66 yards on 12 plays, effectively keeping the Princeton defense off-balance with a combination of the passing of Ford and the running tandem of Siwula and sophomore Shane Kilcoyne. However, Ford passed incomplete to Canty on third-and-4 from the Princeton 20-yard line, setting up a field goal opportunity for junior Peter Zell. Unfortunately for the Red, Zell was unable to convert, as his attempt hit the crossbar and fell forward into the end zone, turning the ball back over to the Tigers.
Instead of allowing the missed opportunity to change the game’s momentum, the Red’s defense created another chance by capitalizing in a big way on a crucial Princeton mistake. On a third-and-15 from his own 29, Terrell was picked off by Bax, who returned the ball 41 yards to the Tigers’ 1-yard line. Siwula did the rest, plunging into the end zone on the very next play, giving the Red a 7-0 lead.
Cornell extended its advantage to 14 on its first drive of the second half, putting together a 7-play, 89-yard drive that was capped off by a 40-yard strike from Ford to Canty. Siwula added 42 rushing yards on the drive, opening up the downfield passing attack.
“[On the touchdown,] it was man coverage and there was no help over the top,” Canty said. “We had been going with the hitch a couple times earlier in the day and he just bit on it. Nate put some air under it and let me run under it.”
However, this day was all about the defense, which gave the Tigers 328 total yards, forced three turnovers and consistently putting Terrell under heavy pressure.
“I’m very happy with [the defense],” Knowles said. “We gave up some things that we shouldn’t have, but they continued to bounce back. They were able to regain the momentum.”
Princeton’s only points of the game came immediately after the Red’s second touchdown, as Terrell engineered an 88-yard drive, capped off by a 2-yard run by Rob Toresco at the end of the third quarter.
The teams exchanged possessions in the fourth, as Princeton was unable to cut into the Cornell lead. With the clock winding down, Dicks forced Terrell to fumble on the Cornell 44-yard line, and junior linebacker Doug Lempa recovered the ball for the Red. After a three-and-out by the Red, Princeton took over looking for the tying score with 2:29 remaining in the game at its own 15-yard line. Behind an effective passing attack, Princeton marched all the way down to the Red 25-yard line with under a minute to go. However, the defense once again held strong, as Terrell was intercepted by Grant down the right sideline with 22 seconds to go, all but clinching the Cornell victory.
“We just took the philosophy on the last drive that we were going to bend but not break, and our guy made a play at the end,” Knowles said. “That’s the way the whole game had been going. Our guys had been making plays on defense when they needed to.”
The game marked the third year in a row where this rivalry produced a nail-biting finish. Two years ago, Cornell held on for a one-point victory on a blocked extra point, while the Tigers won on an overtime field goal last season.