October 10, 2007

Football Downed by Crimson

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For 10 minutes Saturday afternoon, the football team fired on all cylinders, dominating the opposition. Unfortunately for Cornell, though, its 15-0 mid-game run was bookended by 19- and 13- point runs by Harvard, and the Crimson ultimately topped the Red, 32-15.
“They had some mismatches on us at the skill positions, but I was pleased as opposed to the Yale game,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “We made a run, a serious run, and we came back.”
In Cornell’s earlier loss to Yale on Sept. 22, the Red was not able to muster any momentum after falling behind early. Against Harvard, though, Cornell’s offense was able to effectively drive down the field and score during that three-possession stretch from the second to third quarters. Junior Nathan Ford threw a touchdown pass and senior Peter Zell drilled two field goals to help the Red cut the lead. Cornell’s scoring started on a 98-yard return by senior co-captain Colin Nash off of a blocked extra point try. Nash’s score gave the Red its first two points of the game, and started its run.
“We practice a lot of that, we have a whole period in practice devoted to it,” Nash said. [Assistant Defensive Coordinator Pete DeStefano] is always telling us when it hits the ground, scoop it, and that is what I did. … About 90 yards after I picked it up, I said to myself that it better be worth it because it’s a long way to go for two points. But it definitely was worth it, because it changed the whole flow of that half.”
Harvard found its success mainly through the duo of senior quarterback Chris Pizzotti and classmate Corey Mazza. Pizzotti found Mazza for two consecutive scores during the first half, helping to stake the Crimson to an early 13-0 lead. Mazza, a first-team All-Ivy selection last year, finished the day with six receptions for 138 yards while Pizzotti threw for 284 yards and three scores, although he also was picked off twice by the Cornell defense. The senior’s other touchdown toss was to sophomore Matt Luft.
“We just didn’t get the job done,” said senior Ryan Blessing. “We tried to put pressure on the quarterback and we weren’t landing many of our blitzes. We were leaving some of our coverage guys in tough, man-to-man situations and that was really one of our main problems.”
During its struggles in the beginning and end of the game, Cornell’s offense suffered from mistakes, as the Red turned the ball over five times. Ford threw three interceptions, including one at the Crimson’s 6-yard line. In addition, Cornell lost two fumbles, both of which led to Harvard scores.
“If you are scoring a lot of points, you can live with a couple of turnovers,” Knowles said. “You don’t ever want to give up a turnover … because it is just a giveaway. It hurt us a lot in terms of the overall outcome of the game.”
Another facet of the game which Harvard dominated was third-down efficiency. Cornell struggled on third down, only converting 3-of-16 chances. On the other hand, the Crimson was able to convert nine of its 16 tries.
“They were better than us at the skill positions,” Knowles said. “Their receivers outmatched us a little bit. Their secondary was very athletic and they covered us down. Passing-wise, those windows became very tight. They were throwing the ball when we blitzed. We missed a tackle here and there. When we didn’t blitz, they were able to get position on us.”
While the passing statistics for both teams were similar, Harvard had the edge on the ground. Staked to its early lead, the Crimson could afford to run the ball early and often, ultimately running 51 running plays compared to Cornell’s 28. Although the Red’s defense held the Crimson to only 2.5 yards per carry, Harvard was still able to gain 129 yards on the ground, including 67 by sophomore Cheng Ho and 39 by freshman Gino Gordon. Cornell was led in the rushing game by junior Shane Kilcoyne, who amassed 46 yards filling in for senior Luke Siwula, who was out with an injury.
Cornell’s revamped offense was able to find some success through the air. Ford threw for 238 yards and a score. Walters was the primary beneficiary of the aerial attack as the sophomore caught five passes for 69 yards and a touchdown. Ford spread the ball out, completing passes to eight different receivers, including five apiece to juniors Jesse Baker and Zac Canty.
On the defensive side of the ball, junior Tim Bax led the squad with 12 total tackles, extending his team-leading total to 41. Harvard’s offense frequently found the Cornell safety wreaking havoc in its backfield, as Bax also picked up one and a half tackles and one and a half sacks. Senior Doug Lempa also had a big day, recording nine tackles, two tackles for a loss and two sacks. Junior Dario Arezzo and senior Chi Chi Madu both notched an interception apiece.
“Overall, as a defense, we did a good job against them, but they were able to make big plays happen,” Nash said. “They had a couple of scrambles where we had a chance to stop them and they got a long throw here and there.”