This past Friday night, the sprint football team capped off an historic season by defeating Army, 26-7, in the Red’s final contest of the year. The victory not only marks just the third time in school history the Red has finished the season undefeated, but also gives Cornell its first league championship since 1986.
“We’ve really played well all year long,” said head coach Terry Cullen. “This is one of the most complete teams I have ever coached. We have really solid players at every position.”
Cornell’s depth overall was on display against the Black Knights (3-2, 2-1 CFSL) as the Red (6-0, 4-0) was able to control the game on both sides of the ball while also forcing nine turnovers — including seven fumble recoveries. In addition, the Red’s defensive unit held the normally high-powered Army offense to 295 yards — well below their season average of 381 yards per game.
“We played very physical defense and knocked them around a bit,” Cullen said. “As a team, we were a lot stronger and tougher.”
Cornell’s physical play paid dividends in the game’s first stanza when senior linebacker/kicker Jason Zittel recovered a fumble and ran the ball 25 yards into the Black Knights’ end zone to extend the Red’s lead to 10-0. Earlier in the quarter, Zittel had put Cornell on the board by converting a 37-yard field goal.
With the Red controlling the pace of play, Zittel would again account for the only points of the ensuing quarter as the senior put a 36-yard field goal attempt through the uprights to give Cornell a 13-0 half-time lead.
Much credit for the Red’s first-half success can be attributed to the defensive strategy that helped shutdown the Black Knights’ running game — Army’s most potent form of attack.
“Right from the beginning, we took away their offensive game-plan,” Cullen said. “We committed nine guys to stopping the run and forced the quarterback [sophomore Robert Miner] to keep the ball on the option runs. When he had the ball, we were able to force fumbles.”
The start of the second half revealed a different Army offensive attack featuring a triple option that allowed the Black Knights to march down the field on its first possession — all the way to the Red’s 1-yard line.
Yet behind senior tri-captain Derek Johnson the Cornell defense again came up big and twice stopped the Black Knights on the goal line to force a turnover on downs.
“That was really the turning point of the game,” Cullen said. “After that sequence, we were able to shut them down again.”
The Cornell offense would score its first touchdown late in the quarter as senior tri-captain Mike Fullowan ran the ball in from four yards out to extend the Red’s lead to 20-0. Sophomore quarterback Zak Dentes was able to put the finishing touches on the Red’s victory midway through the fourth quarter when he connected with sophomore Michael Brennan behind the defense for a 61-yard touchdown pass that put Cornell on top, 26-0.
Army’s only touchdown of the game, which came with only 1:25 left to play, served only to deny Cornell the pleasure of being the first team since 2003 to hold the Black Knights scoreless and when the final whistle blew, the Red was able to walk off the field with its sixth CSFL championship.