November 10, 2008

Winless Green struggles against Red’s strong defensive, offensive performance

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If the Cornell football team thought it had trouble scoring in the red zone, on a gray and overcast Saturday afternoon at Schoellkopf Field, Dartmouth’s woes in such situations put everything into perspective.
After junior running back Randy Barbour capped a 13-play, 76-yard opening drive for Cornell with his fifth touchdown of the season, Dartmouth marched the length the field to attempt a 26-yard field goal from inside the red zone. Senior linebacker Graham Rihn had other plans, however, deflecting the ensuing kick to sophomore cornerback Andy Wade, who returned the loose football 69 yards to pay dirt. The Red never looked back en route to a 37-14 cakewalk over the winless Green.
“Previously, up to this point, we didn’t expect to be sitting there with the record we had, but none of that matters if you just live in the present,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “That’s really what we want our team to do and show what we’re all about in one day. I thought it was a dominating performance across the board. I thought everybody did a great job of getting the football, taking care of the football and getting back on top in the takeaway battle. The special teams play was strong and they made plays. I just thought it was a great effort across the board.”
The victory snaps a four-game losing steak for Cornell (4-4, 2-3 Ivy) and extends Dartmouth’s (0-8, 0-5 Ivy) losing skid to 10 straight games dating back to last year. Senior signal caller Nathan Ford directed a Cornell offense that accumulated 454 yards of total offense against the Ancient Eight’s worst-ranked defense. The Red’s field general completed 25 passes on 30 attempts for 306 yards through the air and a touchdown, marking the second consecutive week that Ford reached the 300-yard plateau. Junior wide receiver Bryan Walters caught four balls for 116 yards, including a 96-yard flee flicker — the second longest play in Cornell history — from Ford in the first two minutes of the second half.
“I kind of saw through a gap of people, Bryan running with it,” Ford said. “I just saw him pulling away and he’s fast. It was sweet. [Offensive coordinator] Coach [Bruce] Barnum has written that play a few times. It’s kind of nuts like that, so we’ve gotten a few good looks on it. [Senior tailback] Luke [Siwula] pitched it back perfectly and it’s been game tested a few times. You just have to get the ball in and out of your hands and I just kind of threw it out there for Bryan.”
The Red reestablished its running attack, which had been solid during the early season’s three-game winning streak. The ground game accumulated its second highest rushing total this season with 144 yards and three touchdowns. Siwula and Barbour each toted the pigskin 13 times. Siwula notched his first two touchdowns of 2008 with 46 rushing yards while Barbour registered a game-best 70 yards and one touchdown.
“Our offensive line really wanted to go out and just physically dominate today,” Siwula said. “Going in, we knew that their defensive line didn’t really have a lot of size. I think they averaged like 6-1, 230 across the board. We knew if we could just get after them a little bit, make a statement, and move them around, then there would be holes to run through. Those big boys upfront like doing that for us, so it was a lot of fun. … The first time I got in today, I almost didn’t know what to do it had been so long. Once again, it was the offensive line. They said ‘Alright Luke, we’ve got to get you in right now. It’s been too long.’ I tip my hat to them.”
Cornell also won the turnover battle for only the second time all season while freshman quarterback Conner Kempe made his first collegiate start for the Green. Freshman defensive back Rashad Campbell, senior safety Tim Bax and senior defensive lineman Darrio Arezzo took turns picking off Dartmouth’s rookie quarterback.
“Dartmouth was in a slump, so it was really going to be the team that wanted it more and who was really going to go after it physically,” Knowles said. “I thought we got after it physically today. Our run game stepped up. Defensively, we were able to prevent the big plays for the most part. And, we’ve talked about finally making big plays, and I think you can say we had a breakthrough there with Graham [Rihn’s] block and Andy [Wade’s] big play and then the long pass from Nate [Ford] to Bryan [Walters].”
Rihn has been a nemesis of opposing kickers all season as this block was the senior’s third such finger-tipped deflection in 2008. His first blocked kick came on an extra point attempt at Bucknell which sealed the 21-20 victory for the Red in its season-opener. The following week, Rihn blocked a 42-yard field goal attempt as Cornell upset Yale 17-14.
“It’s the same thing that happened against Bucknell and Yale,” Rihn said. “We put a lot of emphasis on that play. It could win us a ballgame and has. Anytime I get a chance to block it, in my head, I’m thinking I am going to block it. With other teams, that’s sometimes a play where people don’t give full effort, so when somebody is giving full effort and somebody isn’t, it gives you an opportunity to block it and that’s basically what happened.”
Dartmouth recorded two touchdowns in the red zone on five opportunities while Cornell converted four of five times inside the 20-yard line. Senior wide receiver Horatio Blackman added to the Green’s struggles inside the red zone as he recorded Cornell’s second blocked kick of the contest when he deflected freshman kicker Foley Schmidt’s 28-yard attempt with two ticks left on the clock in the first quarter.
“I thought Cornell did a nice job,” said Dartmouth head coach Buddy Teevens. “They played hard throughout the ball game. I thought we had some opportunities. Some big ones, the blocked field goal after the long drive was difficult to overcome, just emotionally. You’re kind of fragile and you’re doing some things offensively and then you give away a quick touchdown like that. It could have been a different score at the half, it wasn’t.”