NEW YORK — On Saturday afternoon at Lawrence A. Wien Stadium, the only smiles leaving the field belonged to those of the Columbia football players and coaches, who celebrated their Senior Day by snapping a 16-game losing streak in the Ivy League with a 21-14 win over Cornell. The Red gave up three costly turnovers that resulted in two touchdowns and the end of an attempted comeback in the fourth quarter.
[img_assist|nid=19821|title=Superman|desc=Sophomore Shane Kilcoyne (26) dives into the end zone to put Cornell on the board in the second quarter of the Red’s 21-14 loss to the Lions this past Saturday. (Robert Bonow / Sun Photo Editor)|link=popup|align=left|width=100|height=74]
“I’ve got a lot of respect for [Columbia head coach] Norries [Wilson],” said Cornell head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “I think he’s done a wonderful job of getting these guys to play hard … and they’re learning how to win. They showed up and played a great game.”
Knowles’ team was led by sophomore quarterback Nathan Ford, who was 11-for-19, accounting for 93 yards in the air and 75 on the ground. Ford and freshman quarterback Stephen Liuzza combined for three turnovers, and Ford had a touchdown for the Red. Junior tailback Luke Siwula was the Red’s most effective threat on the ground, running for 93 yards on 19 carries, while sophomore Shane Kilcoyne had 78 yards on 14 attempts, including a 12-yard touchdown run. Senior Anthony Jackson caught four passes for 41 yards to round out the offensive effort. Junior safety Michael Boyd led the Red defense with nine tackles, while classmate Ryan Blesssing added eight.
Columbia took the field behind the arm of Craig Hormann, who connected on 14-of-20 passes for 187 yards and a touchdown. Jordan Davis completed that effort with 95 rushing yards on 19 carries for the Lions, while Nick DeGasperis had 64 yards on five catches to lead all Columbia receivers. The defense was the difference for the Lions, as Tad Crawford and Adam Bekke each tallied 10 tackles and picked off a pass. Brekk returned his interception 25 yards for a touchdown, while Drew Quinn capitalized on a third Cornell turnvoer by returning his pick 40 yards.
Columbia made a strong opening statement as Hormann directed the offense 77 yards in 10 plays after starting on the Cornell 23-yard line. Hormann advanced the Lions to the Cornell 1-yard line with a 13-yard pass — his fourth of 10 or more yards on the drive. While the Cornell defense was able to stuff Columbia’s first rush attempt from Davis, James Cobb broke through on the second to put the home team up, 7-0, after the extra point conversion by Jon Rocholl.
Cornell’s offense misfired twice in the first quarter, as junior Peter Zell’s 43-yard field goal attempt fell short on the Red’s first possession. After forcing a three-and-out by Columbia, the Red’s next drive was stopped in its tracks when sophomore quarterback Nathan Ford was intercepted by Brekke, who returned the pick 25 yards for a touchdown and 14-0 lead for the Lions after the PAT by Rocholl.
“I’m impressed that our guys came out and finished a game,” Wilson said. “I told them before the game, it’s out of my hands, there’s nothing I can do, I’ve done all I can do. They have to decide that they want to win, and I hope that’s what they decided, that they wanted to win. They found a way to get it done.”
It looked as though the momentum was turning in the second quarter, as safety Chi Chi Madu and Blessing registered sacks for Cornell, pushing the Lions back to their own 35-yard line. The Red took over on its own 15-yard line after suffering a personal foul penalty, but turned to dependable Siwula to make up for the loss. Siwula came through, carrying the ball for a total of 64 yards on the play. Kilcoyne delivered the final blow, breaking through for an 11-yard touchdown with 4:54 left in the half. Zell converted on the extra point to cut the deficit to 14-7.
Neither team managed to put an exclamation point on the half, as Rocholl sent a 38-yard field goal attempt wide left for the Lions and Ford threw three consecutive incomplete passes to close out the frame for the Red.
The two sides held each at bay for most of the third stanza, trading punts back and forth to open the half. All that changed when Cornell tried to shake things up by putting Liuzza under center. The move backfired when Liuzza was intercepted by Crawford at the Cornell 33-yard line. Hormann wasted no time capitalizing on the unexpected opportunity, connected with tight end Jamal Russell in the end zone for a 33-yard pass and the touchdown with 4:12 left in the quarter. Rocholl tacked on the extra point for a 21-7 lead for the Lions.
“I’ve been harping on them, you’ve got to execute,” Wilson said. “The attitude and effort will only take us so far, and I told them if we don’t execute, we’re not ever going to get over this hump in the fourth quarter.”
The Red put itself in position for a comeback midway through the final stanza, as Ford found the end zone from two yards out for his team-leading sixth touchdown of the year. Zell added the extra point, and his fellow kicker, junior Jay Harding, delivered a textbook onsides kick into the hands of freshman Bryan Walters on the right sideline to position the Red on its own 47-yard line.
Cornell moved down the field behind the legwork of Siwula and Ford to the Columbia 19-yard line, then called a timeout looking at a fourth-and-2. The strategy discussed in the huddle unraveled on the field, however, and Ford was brought down 11 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
“We tried to get the quarterback out on the perimeter and get him the run-pass option and he pulled up,” Knowles said. “I have no idea why our quarterback did that, I’ll have to watch the film, but of course he pulled up and Columbia was right there on the back side.”
While Cornell was able to give itself one more chance to score by forcing Columbia to a three-and-out, the Red’s last hope was snuffed out when Ford was picked off for the second time with 1:15 left in the game, with Quinn causing the turnover for the Lions.
“We just had to come up with a big play to get a big stop,” Brekke said. “We needed to step up and make the play, and it turned out we did and that was the game.”
The Lions kicked off the victory celebration by dousing Wilson in an orange Gatorade bath at center field as the clock ran out.