October 17, 2008

Sprint Football Hopes to Avenge Loss to Penn

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Last year, Cornell opened its season with an exciting 23-18 win over Penn, only to lose by one score in the teams’ second meeting later in the season — the game that counts toward the CSFL record. After dropping this season’s opener to the Quakers, the Red will be looking to return the favor tonight at Schoellkopf.
In this year’s opener against Penn — counted as a non-conference game — Cornell’s offense was unable to pick up where it left off at the end of a record-breaking 2007, and the Red (2-2, 1-1 CSFL) fell to the Quakers (4-0, 2-0 CSFL), 17-3. Four weeks later, Cornell finds itself with a chance to win the game that really matters.
“We definitely want to win this one, because this is the one that counts [towards our conference record],” said co-head coach Bart Guccia. “We feel that the division is still wide open. Penn and Army still have to play Navy, and we still have to play Army. This is a game that, if we win, we’ll still have a chance to tie for a league championship.
Cornell’s only losses during its conference schedule last year came at the hands of defending champion Navy and Ivy rival Penn. Having already lost to Navy two weekends ago, the Red will try to avoid a repeat of last year when it faces its biggest rival tonight.
“Penn’s our main competition of the Ivy League schools,” Guccia said. “It’s us and Penn — that aspect makes it a big game, whether it’s one for the scout teams or the one that counts in the conference.”
“The fact that they’re in the Ivy League, and they’re basically identical to us, makes them a bigger rival [than Navy],” senior captain John Parke said. “It’s obviously our biggest game of the year thus far.”
While it may be a stretch to label the Red and the Quakers as identical, they certainly are similar.
In Penn’s games against Mansfield and Princeton, the Quakers outscored their opponents a combined 77-12. In Cornell’s games against the same two teams, the Red held a 75-14 advantage.
Both teams also rely heavily on the quarterback position to pace the offense. For the Red, senior captain Zak Dentes will be back under center tonight after sitting out last week’s game against Princeton.
After getting off to a rough start against Penn to open the season, Dentes has returned to all-league form. In his last start against CSFL powerhouse Navy, he rushed for 44 yards and two scores while throwing for 273 yards and one touchdown.[img_assist|nid=32738|title=Redemption time|desc=The Red has a chance to redeem itself tonight in a tilt against Penn that counts towards CSFL standings.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
For Penn, the offense goes where senior quarterback Michael D’Angelo goes. D’Angelo is coming off a season where he was named the second-team All CSFL quarterback — behind first teamer Dentes. This year, D’Angelo has the Quakers sitting on top of the division with a 4-0 record.
“We have to contain him,” Guccia said. “That’s number one — we have to contain him. He is a tremendous athlete. He has great escape ability. The one thing we have to do is contain him, and when we do get our hands on him, we have to bring him down and tackle him. That’s our number one goal defensively.”
Containing D’Angelo has been Cornell’s focus since he ran for 99 yards against the Red in last season’s opener.
Since then, D’Angelo has accounted for negative 46 yards on the ground in two games. The Quaker’s signal caller has, however, been able to dissect the Red secondary for 365 passing yards and three touchdowns.
“We have to shut him down,” Parke said. “He’s basically the reason they’ve beaten us the past two games. He’s a great athlete — he runs a lot, and he breaks a lot of tackles.
But I think we’ll play well enough to contain him. We’ll definitely focus on him because he’s touching the ball every play, whether he’s running it or throwing it.”
While the Red know who to expect in the backfield for Penn, it isn’t clear yet who will be in the backfield for Cornell tonight. Both Dentes and junior halfback DJ Schiavetta missed last week’s game due to injury. Dentes will be back, but Schiavetta’s status has not yet been determined.
“As of right now, [Schivetta] practiced yesterday with full pads and hopefully he’ll be back at 100 percent,” Guccia said. “If he is, he’ll play [tonight].”
The return of regulars Dentes and Schivetta could provide the boost the Red need to break its two-game losing streak to the Quakers — the first time Cornell has lost consecutive games to Penn since the 2004 season opener.
“Since our first game against Penn we have definitely improved on offense, and we need Dentes and Schiavetta to do well,” Parke said. “Hopefully they’ll come back and the offense will continue to play well — where we left off against Navy. We’re looking to them, as well as [senior captain] Mike Brennan, to take the ball down the field and score some points.”
Cornell will likely need more than just Dentes, Schiavetta and wideout Brennan to break through Penn’s defense.
While averaging nearly 350 yards per game, the Quaker defense has held opponents to a meager 199 yards on average. Against Cornell earlier this season, Penn allowed only 110 yards of total offense.
“We did not have a very good game offensively against Penn,” Guccia said. “Of course our goal there is to improve and play like we’ve been playing for the last three weeks.”
Since gaining just 110 yards against Penn to start the year, the Red has averaged 376 yards per game, including 331 against Navy — 25 yards more than the Midshipmen totaled in that matchup.
For Cornell, hopefully the upward trend will continue.
“It’s clearly a big game,” Parke said. “If we lose, we have no shot of winning the league, and Penn has been our biggest rival over the years.
“Personally, I tore my MCL last year during the game we lost in overtime. Coming back this year and losing to them in the fall really hurt — for everybody, not just myself — and I think that everyone is ready to really give it to them this time.”
Parke, whose season was cut short last year after suffering an injury in the loss to Penn, will be one of many seniors who will face their biggest rival for the last time tonight.
With one last chance to take down the Quakers, there won’t be many pacifists on the turf at Schoellkopf tonight.