Football head coach Jim Knowles ’87 was almost at a loss for words.
“If you look at the stats, it’s, it’s,” Knowles said and paused, looking for the right word. Finally, he found it. “It’s embarrassing.”
Saturday’s 38-22 loss to Colgate (5-2, 1-0 Patriot League) was just one of those days for Cornell (3-2, 1-1 Ivy). Nothing seemed to go right from start to finish. The run defense gave up 345 yards and the secondary got burned for several long pass plays, including a 78-yard score. The offense had a touchdown called back because of a penalty, and had trouble finishing drives despite compiling 414 total yards. Even the special teams had a recovered onside kick taken back due to an inadvertent whistle.
“This hurts,” Knowles said, looking almost as baffled as he looked upset. “To happen at home, that hasn’t happened before.”[img_assist|nid=32781|title=Bulldozer|desc=Freshman Nate Eachus (with ball) replaced an injured Jordan Scott, the FCS leading rusher, and ran for 241 yards of his own, on 37 carries. Overall, the Cornell run defense gave up 345 yards on the ground.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Indeed, during Knowles’ four-plus years at Cornell, the Red is 17-5 at home. Knowles’ sixth home loss was probably his worst.
The Red appeared to have caught a lucky break when Colgate’s Jordan Scott, the leading FCS rusher, went down in the second quarter with an ankle injury. However, Colgate head coach Dick Biddle plucked freshman Nate Eachus from his defensive unit and lined him up at tailback. Despite only having 25 yards on eight carries entering Saturday, Eachus bulldozed his way to 241 yards and three touchdowns on 37 carries.
“He just ran hard,” said senior safety Tim Bax, who led the team with 13 tackles. “He always finished every run and fell forward, so he was gaining a couple of yards every carry. He just ran tough.”
There were no frills to Eachus’ style. He followed his blocks from an offensive line that was physically dominating Cornell’s defensive front, and picked up yards downhill fashion.
“We got handled on defense,” Knowles said, pointing out the obvious. Colgate’s 600 total yards on offense was the eighth most in school history.
Eachus wasn’t the only Colgate threat Saturday, however. Working out of the shotgun formation, Raiders quarterback Greg Sullivan kept the defense guessing. He mostly alternated between handing it off on the draw play and keeping it himself. Sullivan even worked in the occasional pass.
This formula produced immediate success, as the Raiders marched down and scored a touchdown on their first possession. Sullivan found Pat Simonds — who finished the day with five catches for 196 yards — for a 21-yard completion two plays before punching it in himself from 19 yards out on a keeper. Sullivan finished 8-for-17 with 255 yards and a touchdown pass.
“Last year, they were really one-sided,” Knowles said, referencing Cornell’s 17-14 win over Colgate last year. “Their quarterback couldn’t run the ball and they didn’t have as good a passing attack. Really, it’s the quarterback. That’s the difference. He can keep the ball now, he can throw and that changes the whole game.”
As a result, the Red seemed unsure whether to pack the box to defend the run or drop back in zone coverage to shut down the passing attack. In the end, it couldn’t stop either.
“When you’re able to run the ball, you can get the play action,” said Colgate head coach Dick Biddle. “I think our quarterback is very underrated, and our receivers are tall. There are a lot of smaller defensive backs, so you’re able to get a mismatch and take advantage of it. I think our quarterback is able to get the ball up there to do that.”
Biddle praised Sullivan for his maturation throughout the year, but almost as impressive was Simonds, whose 6-6 frame helped him make catches against Cornell’s man coverage.
“He had a height advantage and he’s quick too,” Bax said. “He’s got good hands. We just got beat. We’re always committed to stopping the run and they just got us.”
Simonds really got the Red’s defense in the second quarter when he torched junior defensive back Frank Morand for the 78-yard score to put Colgate up 17-0. With Cornell packing nine in the box, Sullivan took advantage of Morand’s single coverage. He caught the ball about 20 yards downfield, then stopped in his tracks and switched directions, leaving Morand to chase him all the way to the end zone.
“It’s one-on-one, you just have to make a move and get open and do the best you can,” Simonds said. “Greg put it in a great spot.”
Cornell would get on the board before halftime, though, with one of its more bizarre touchdowns this season. Senior Shane Kilcoyne — who had a nice afternoon with six catches for 56 yards and a touchdown — took the Colgate kickoff back 73 yards. A 19-yard completion put the Red at the Raiders’ three-yard line.
That was when Knowles pulled another tick out of his bag, lining up senior running back Luke Siwula at quarterback. Siwula took the snap, faked the keeper, then knuckled an end-over-end pass to senior tight end Zach Vredenburgh to bring the score to 17-7.
“He drew a great fake to bring everyone up in the box,” Vredenburgh said.
But as would be the case all afternoon, every time Cornell scored, Colgate answered. Before the half, Eachus punched in the first of his three touchdowns on the afternoon to make the score at the break 24-7.
And when the Red came out of intermission and marched down for a nine-yard rushing score from junior Randy Barbour, the Raiders came right back on the next possession to extend its lead back to 31-14 on a 51-yard scamper by Eachus.
The Red’s four-game home winning streak, which started against Colgate last year, was quickly coming to an end against the same team.
“It was a big game for us,” Simonds said. “We highlighted this game on the schedule. We came here the past two years and they did a great job against us. We didn’t bring our ‘A’ game and there was no way we were going to come in here and not play our best game.”
But Cornell did try to conjur a comeback with smoke and mirrors. Facing a fourth-and-long from the Colgate 11, the Red faked a field goal, calling on senior co-captain Tommy Bleymaier to run up the gut after taking the snap as the holder. Bleymaier was tackled well short of the first down, though.
To add insult to injury, Colgate then meticulously marched down the field on a clock-killing 5:20 drive. It ended when Eachus fell into the end zone from one yard out with 8:28 left in the fourth quarter. The score rounded out his three-touchdown afternoon and inflated the lead to 38-14, putting the game nearly out of reach.
A Kilcoyne touchdown catch and two-point conversion was too little too late, and the game came to an end with a final score of 38-22.
“It’s a tough feeling as a coach,” Knowles said. “We have to go back to basics. Our season is still ahead of us. The Ivy League is coming up. We have to take this and learn from it. There are weaknesses there that people are going to see on film that we have to go back now and fix.”
Football head coach Jim Knowles ’87 was almost at a loss for words.