October 7, 2008

Sprint Football Fails to Repeat at Saratoga

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The Allegiance Bowl in Saratoga Springs, NY was host to the 64th meeting between Navy and Cornell this weekend. The last time Cornell played in the Allegiance Bowl, then-sophomore quarterback Zak Dentes was named the Allegiance Bowl MVP after leading Cornell to a 20-12 win over Penn. Despite another outstanding performance from this year’s senior captain, Cornell lost to the defending CSFL champions, 31-25.
After beating up on Mansfield last week, Cornell (1-2, 0-1 CSFL) kept the momentum rolling early against Navy (4-0, 1-0 CSFL). After allowing a touchdown in the first three minutes, the Red answered at the end of the first quarter with a 28-yard touchdown pass from Dentes to junior Upal Sarker, to tie the game at 7-7. Senior Mitch Ottinger made a 24-yard field goal for the only points in the second quarter, giving Cornell a 10-7 lead at the break.
“The offense was really clicking on Friday,” said senior Brandon Stoller. “The major thing we did was slow down the pace. We stopped going for the home run every play —the whole game we were getting a 4 yard gain, a 5 yard run — and every play was a big play. We had the lead at half-time, but we were thinking, ‘Let’s not get complacent, go for the jugular.’”[img_assist|nid=32490|title=Throught the gauntlet|desc=Senior wide receiver Joshua Friedman (center) caught a game-high six receptions for 121 total yards Saturday during Cornell’s loss to Navy.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“We thought that the first half went very well, but we knew that Navy had a lot of firepower and that we’d have to play the same way we played in the first half in the second half,” co-head coach Bart Guccia said. “Offensively we did, defensively we didn’t.”
The tides turned in favor of the Midshipmen in the second half, as they blocked a punt on Cornell’s first possession. After blocking the kick, Navy scored from 10 yards out to take their first lead of the game, 14-10.
“The blocked punt early in the second half was a backbreaker for us,” Guccia said. “They were able to score and take the lead — that was one key turning point. The other was when their kicker was able to kick a 46-yard field goal, which is huge. You combine those two plays, which account for ten points, and it makes the game a whole different story.”
The 46-yard field goal didn’t occur until Dentes ran the ball in from one yard out to put Cornell ahead 16-14. Navy blocked the extra point attempt however, and took a 17-16 lead after Stephen Phillips converted on a 46-yarder.
Navy put up another seven points just thirty-seven seconds after the field goal to extend its lead to 24-16. Cornell’s offense was still moving the ball, however, and opened the fourth quarter with another rushing score from Dentes to put the Red within two points. After a failed two-point conversion, the score stood at 24-22.
“[The offense] has improved tremendously since the Penn game,” Guccia said. “One thing that impressed me is that when Navy went ahead of us – every time Navy scored, we came back and scored. That was probably the biggest thing that we were able to do that we weren’t able to do against Penn. When we were behind, the offense came back and put us back in the game.”
Despite the offenses best efforts, however, the defense could not contain the Midshipmen. Nave scored another touchdown, taking a 31-22 lead with eight minutes left in the game.
“They made some third and fourth down conversions to keep drives alive, which they scored on,” Guccia said. “In the first half we were able to shut down their third and fourth down conversions. In the second half, we had some trouble doing that, which led to their scoring drives.”
With three minutes left, Ottinger converted a field goal to come within one score of Navy, and the stage was set for a comeback.
“We had our chance — the great play for us was the onside kick after we kicked a field goal to get within six points,” Guccia said. “Mitch Ottinger made a great [onside] kick, and [junior] Chris Stanton went and got the ball back.”
Dentes — who ended the game with 273 passing yards, 44 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns and one through the air — led the Red to the ten-yard line on the final drive with a minute left in the game.
“We didn’t take any play for granted,” Stoller said. “We settled down and took what the defense was giving us. The offense was able to take advantage while the o-line was giving Zak all day to pass.”
On first-and-goal from the ten, Dentes gained a few yards on a quarterback draw, but was sacked for short losses on the second and third downs. On fourth down from the 16-yard line, Army picked off Dentes’ pass, securing the victory for the Midshipmen.
“We drove the ball down the field with lots of good plays,” Stoller said. “But on fourth down, they just made a good defensive play. Unfortunately, that was the game. That was it.”
“There was a little controversy on the last play,” Guccia added. “When the kid ran the ball back, we thought he had fumbled. The fans thought he fumbled. But the referee called him down. We recovered the fumble — if he wasn’t called down — so we might have had another chance at it. But the referee said he was down. We couldn’t tell on our tape if he was down or not.”
Against the Midshipmen, a team that came into the Allegiance Bowl having given up a total of five rushing yards in three games, the Red managed 58 rushing yards to complement Dentes’ 273 passing yards. Cornell had control of the ball for the majority of the game, but Navy showed why it is the defending CSFL champion.
“Navy is one of the best, if not the best teams in the conference, and we showed we can play with the best,” Stoller said. “Any other Sunday, we might win.”