October 6, 2008

Non-conference contest comes down to final seconds

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BETHLEHEM, Penn. — “I still can’t believe it happened,” said senior tri-captain quarterback Nathan Ford. “I just remember, Jesse looked to me in the huddle and said, ‘I’ll see you in the end zone.’ So that’s when I knew good things were going to happen.”
[video:node=32435] And good things did happen for Ford and the Red Saturday afternoon, especially in the team’s last drive against Lehigh. Trailing 24-19, Ford connected with seniors Zac Canty, Horatio Blackman and junior Bryan Walters to march the Red to the 20-yard line.
Then, with four seconds left, Ford put his trust in senior wide receiver Jesse Baker to bring down the jump ball he threw to the right pylon in the end zone.
“We just ran bunch to the left, boundary to the right,” Ford said. “We put the safety in a bind. He stayed with the three receivers and Jesse got one-on-one, and that’s a match-up we love. So Jesse made a phenomenal play.”
“I got the chance to go outside and get that one-on-one coverage,” Baker said. “That’s pretty much all I was asking for. It was a hit and bang play. Nate [Ford] put a great ball there and I just had to go up there and make the catch.”
And make the catch he did. Matched up against a smaller defensive back in Jarrard Cribbs, Baker brought the ball down and sealed the one-point victory for the Red — keeping them undefeated for the season, 3-0.
“[Cribbs] made a good play on it,” Baker said. “I just went up for it at its highest point. That’s what we’re taught to do, and I just think I was a little bigger.”
“You throw the ball up in the air,” said Lehigh head coach Andy Coen. “Their guy is 6-3, our guy is … not. He jumps up and makes a great catch. They didn’t fool us. It wasn’t like we were out of position. The kid made the play on that play, and we didn’t. They win the game.”
While the culminating play might have seemed simple, the entire drive tested the Red’s mental strength, as it consistently had to convert on third and fourth downs to get down the field. Ford, who had a career high 438 passing yards, threw the pigskin 63 times in the contest. Eventually, the Lehigh defense was able to pick up the passing scheme in the final drive.
“They made some good adjustments,” Ford said. “We wanted to hit them with a lot of drags, we thought we could spring a few guys. The last drive, they did a great job coming up and hitting the drags. So, I took a few more plays but at the same time we had three or four first downs on the last drive. Every time I stepped in the huddle, there was ten guys looking at me just knowing that we were going to get [the first down.]. That’s an awesome feeling.”
Especially after Canty dropped a possible touchdown catch two plays before Baker’s play. Canty, who finished the game with 11 catches for 120 yards, is generally a sure-handed receiver and the drop caught head coach Jim Knowles ’87 off-guard.
“That play right there is a total test of our team,” Knowles said. “Because, I look at [wide receivers coach] Joe Borich and say, ‘Is that Canty?’ He never drops, he is just as sure as Jesse and all the rest of them. It was kind of odd. So then we thought someone else must be destined to get it. Really, that was the feeling on the sidelines.”
With the game on the line, the Red called a timeout and huddled along the sidelines. While, the Lehigh defense huddled amongst itself to prep for the big play, Cornell’s entire team, offense, defense and coaches grouped together.
“In crunch time, these guys do it naturally,” Knowles said. “In the past, I had to wave some people on but in crunch time. These guys just know, it’s not the offense, it’s all about the 64 of us. It is our administration, its our alumni, its everybody in that huddle. Particularly on the road, you want to get around your people, you want to get everybody in there. If it was the defense going, the offense would have been there too.”
“The greatest thing was, I didn’t see a difference [after Canty dropped the potential game-winning touchdown],” Ford said. “They just looked at me the same way. We just knew we would find a way with these guys.
The final throw to Baker gave the Red its third win on the season and sets up an intriguing match-up next Saturday against Harvard. This was the second road game that Cornell won in dramatic fashion, after close 21-20 win over Bucknell in the season opener. After Baker caught the ball, he was soon accompanied by the whole team in the end zone, coaches and players alike.
“I was on the sideline and we saw some of the guys running out, we saw three zeros on the clock so we figured it was over and we just ran out there,” said senior linebacker Chris Costello, who led the defense with 11 tackles. “Nobody was going to stop us, we saw Jesse catch that ball and we were all gone.”
And while the Red were celebrating the game-winning play, Lehigh players were left on the gridiron, noticeably hurt by the loss. The Red had marched down the field to take the game from them on Alumni Day in a packed Goodman Stadium.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow,” said Lehigh senior linebacker Tim Diamond.