On the eve of the varsity football team’s season opener at Bucknell on Saturday, the sprint football team was further south in the Keystone State to open its season against Ivy rival Penn. Two years removed from an undefeated CSFL championship run, the Red was unable to avenge last year’s overtime loss to the Quakers, losing 17-3 to begin the 2008 campaign.
The Red (0-1, 0-0 CSFL) made its first trip down to Franklin Field since losing 35-28 in overtime to the Quakers (1-0) last year. In that contest, Cornell tied the game with 32 seconds left in regulation on a 26-yard touchdown strike from then-junior quarterback Zak Dentes. On Friday night, Penn’s secondary held Dentes to only 12 yards through the air.[img_assist|nid=31970|title=Zoning in|desc=Sophomore Elliot Corey had the only long completion of the night for the Red, a 39-yard pass.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“As far as offensive productivity, obviously we had guys out there playing their hearts out, but we just weren’t clicking the way that we used to and the way that we know we can,” said senior Matt Malleo. “…We went to Penn and didn’t play up to our caliber — that’s why we got beat. It wasn’t necessarily all Penn. They played well and you have to give them credit but we know we can improve.”
Sophomore quarterback Elliot Corey and senior receiver Michael Brennan combined for the Red’s longest play of the game by connecting for a 39 yard gain through the air. Junior D.J. Schiavetta led Cornell with 34 rushing yards on 18 carries while Dentes added 23 yards on the ground. Senior Mitch Ottinger provided the only points for the Red with a field goal in the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t really capitalize on the opportunities that we had, but being the first game, I think it was more [a problem of it being the first game] than it was the offense,” said sophomore Clay Hemminger. “[The offense] hasn’t had a test yet aside from playing against [Cornell’s defense] at practice. I think this game is really going to help us a lot in figuring out what we need to fix. When league play starts I think we’ll be fine.”
Despite adding an early tally to the loss column, Friday’s game will not count in the Red’s league record. With so few teams in the CSFL, Cornell plays Penn in both a non-conference game to start the season, and again in a conference game.
Last year, Cornell won its season opener against Penn at Schoellkopf, which did not count towards CSFL standing. The game that did count in the standings was the Red’s overtime loss in the rematch at Franklin Field.
“We’re hoping for the opposite this year,” Hemminger said. “We’ve already spoken about it. We beat them on our turf last year and then went down there and lost. We really think that if we just change a few things, when they come back up to our house we can beat them.”
“Throughout my playing career, normally when you lose to a team, you never get to play them again,” Malleo said. “We not only get to play Penn again, but we get to play at home with our crowd… We’re fortunate that we get to play them a second time. Basically our plan right now is to win out and win the championship.
In order to do that, the Red’s defense will have to maintain the high level of play it showed it’s capable of on Friday night.
“I think the defense got on track and played well,” Malleo said. “We just had a couple of mental mistakes. Especially in the third and fourth quarter, we started missing tackles. I guess it’s the same philosophy [as on offense] — we could play a lot better.”
Before giving up 17 points in the second half, Cornell held Penn scoreless in the first. The defense slowly broke down, however, giving up a field goal in the middle of the third and allowing two touchdowns in the final twenty minutes of the game.
“A little bit of it was fatigue in the second half, and we had a few mental breakdowns,” Hemminger said, who led the Red with 13 tackles, three tackles for a loss and an interception. “We gave up two big plays. They capitalized on what they had, and we didn’t.”
Despite losing, the team’s focus seemed to be on the future of the season, acknowledging that conference play has yet to begin.
“We definitely knew it was going to be a tough game,” Malleo said. “Penn’s a good team. We were expecting to win, and obviously we were disappointed to lose. However, I think it could be a blessing in disguise, and we definitely can use it as a motivational tool.”