October 22, 2007

Football Earns First Win Over Brown Since 2002

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At halftime, head coach Jim Knowles ‘87 walked into the locker room and wrote three words on the board — “We Will Win.” At the time down 24-14 and later down 31-14, Cornell validated Knowles’s prediction, utilizing an improved pass defense, a strong running game and a bit of trickery to score 24 straight points and down Brown, 38-31, in overtime.
“It was very short; [Knowles] didn’t say much,” said sophomore running back Randy Barbour. “He wrote on the board, ‘We Will Win.’ That’s it. ‘We Will Win.’”
Brown (2-4, 1-2 Ivy) is the top passing team in the Ivy League. Coming into the game, the Bears were averaging 341.2 yards a game through the air, tops in the Ancient Eight — 45 yards more than second-place Harvard. Junior Michael Dougherty was also first in the league in passing yards per game and sophomore Buddy Farnham was tied for the league lead in receptions per game.
In the first half, Brown showed its aerial prowess. The Bears got out to a quick 14-0 lead before the first quarter was half over and Dougherty continued his success throughout the half, completing 23-of-29 first-half passes for 276 yards and throwing two touchdown passes to sophomore Bobby Sewall, helping to lead the Bears to the 10-point halftime lead.
“The first half I thought they were playing pretty soft and they were giving us pretty much what we wanted,” Dougherty said.
The second half was a different story, though. Even though Dougherty did connect with Farnham on a touchdown toss, the junior quarterback was only 9-of-26 for 83 yards after halftime. Cornell (4-2, 1-2) credited its defensive adjustments made at halftime for stopping Brown’s pass attack — a crucial part of the Red’s comeback attempt.
“When we first game-planned initially, we were going to worry about the big play … hang back in zone, not let them beat us deep,” said senior co-captain Colin Nash. “In the second half, we changed our defense. … We played almost the same defense the whole second half and it worked, clearly, so we eliminated the big play overall, and we contained their offense and kept it in front of us.”
The new success of the secondary in the second half helped swing the momentum in Cornell’s direction in the second half and then into overtime.
“We made some adjustments on defense that presented a couple looks, particularly when they were in that no-back set, and they were spreading us out, just dinking us, we kind of adjusted our coverage,” Knowles said. “It kept them off-balance and that was it. Once our defense got on track, I knew the game was going to go our way because I knew our offense was waiting to explode.”
In the extra period — the team’s first since Oct. 29, 2005 at Princeton — Cornell had the ball first, and marched into the end zone on a five-yard run by Barbour, who initially ran up the middle, then cut to his left for the score. The defense then continued its containment of Brown’s offense as it only allowed the Bears to gain two yards in its one overtime possession. On fourth and eight, Brown tried a trick play to get the first. Dougherty passed it backwards for a lateral to Sewell, who then turned around and tried to fire it back to Dougherty. The pass ultimately fell short, though, sealing the win for the Red.
“I told their coach it was a gutsy call,” Knowles said. “Good call on their part, but it didn’t work.”
Brown’s trick play was not the first of the game, though, as Cornell used a bit of deception of its own. Down 31-14 in the third, Cornell lined up for a field goal, but junior holder Tommy Bleymaier took the snap and executed a successful fake field goal, running untouched eight yards to his left for the score. The trick play energized the Red, who would not let up another point the entire game.
“That was the hugest thing ever,” Barbour said. “Just to score in that position right there, that just sparked the game, sparked the momentum.”
As opposed to last week’s 17-14 win over Colgate, when Cornell only amassed 36 rushing yards, the Red also successfully utilized the running game. Leading the charge was Barbour, who was filling in for the injured senior Luke Siwula. The sophomore gained a career-high 159 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries.
Barbour’s prowess on the ground opened up the field for junior Nathan Ford, who completed 34-54 yards for 292 yards and a touchdown. Ford spread the ball around, completing passes to 10 different receivers. Junior Zac Canty was his most frequent target, as the receiver caught 10 balls for 84 yards. Classmate Jesse Baker also had a solid game, catching five passes and gaining 82 yards. Ford’s lone touchdown toss was to junior Horatio Blackman, who finished the day with three catches for 25 yards.
“You could feel the momentum in the game, when Randy is breaking tackles and Canty is breaking tackles,” Knowles said. “They are not tackling as well and we are tackling better. That’s just the way it goes, those fundamentals.”
The combination of Ford and Barbour helped Cornell gain 33 first downs, the most in school history. Brown, on the other hand, only moved the chains 18 times.
“We played the first half and made some plays and didn’t play in the second half and make the plays we needed to make,” said Brown head coach Phil Estes. “They got some momentum going and as they had their momentum, we seemed to die on our sideline.”
Cornell’s defense, in addition to stopping Dougherty in the second half, also prevented Brown from getting any momentum in the running game. The Bears only gained 44 yards on the ground, led by junior Jonathon Edwards, who rushed for 34.
Senior Doug Lempa led the Cornell defense with seven tackles, including one for a loss. Junior Gus Krimm also had seven, and Boyd recorded six. Freshman Emani Fenton also recorded the first interception of his career.
“It is just practice and execution,” Boyd said. “They are going to get their plays, they are going to get those hitches, but as we come up and tackle, put them down on third and three or third and five, and try to get off the field right there.”
The victory was Cornell’s first win over Brown since 2002, when it won 10-7 in two overtimes. Knowles had never beaten the Bears in his head-coaching career.
“I can’t say everything went according to plan at the beginning because they hit us on some big plays,” Knowles said. “They are a big-play team, and we said all along that we were going to prevent the big play, but we didn’t quite do it in our calls on defense. So we made those changes in the second half, and we did what we had to do.”