While there are many uncertainties surrounding the young Mansfield sprint football program, the Cornell team knows one thing for sure heading into its season-opening game against the Mountaineers tomorrow at 1 p.m. in Mansfield, Pennsylvania: it will be loud.
“They’re gonna be fired up,” said senior defensive back and co-captain John Mackintosh, speaking of the Mansfield supporters who led the Collegiate Sprint Football League in attendance the past two years at Karl Van Norman field. “We’ll have to come out and match their intensity from the start.”
The Mansfield program—still fresh off its buzz from entering the league two years ago—is trying to improve upon a 2-5 season (its first full season in the league), but must contend with a coaching transition and inexperienced players. The Red is quite the opposite, coming off its fourth consecutive winning season (4-3). Cornell is led by co-head coach Terry Cullen, who was instrumental in getting the Mansfield program into the CSFL and is entering his 34th season with top coaching duties at Cornell.
“Our strength is that we have a lot of veteran players,” Cullen said. “Mansfield has a young roster; the majority of them are freshmen and sophomores. We’ll be looking to capitalize on their inexperience.”
The Mountaineers are often unpredictable, too.
“In the four games we’ve played [Mansfield], they’ve switched their base offense each time,” Mackintosh said.
“It’s hard to get a read on them,” Cullen added.
Cornell, on the other hand, returns a familiar core that includes all but two defensive starters from a season ago. One of those departures was First-team All-CSFL linebacker John Parke ’10, whose presence in the middle of the Red defense will be missed.
“[Senior linebacker] Tex Alexander has big shoes to fill,” Cullen noted. “But he had a very good preseason and we have confidence that he’ll slide in nicely.
On offense, the Red is lead by senior quarterback Elliot Corey, who begins his final season tomorrow after throwing for 690 yards and five touchdowns last year. Despite the losses of leading rusher D.J. Schiavetta ’10 and leading receiver Upal Sarker ’10, the Red offense believes it can thrive and top the 22.6 points per contest it put up last season.
“I worked on my speed and arm strength a lot in the offseason,” Corey said. “As a team, I think we have a lot of pieces in place to have a great year.”
The Red offense will have to attack the strong point of the Mountaineers defense: the defensive line, which features All-CSFL selections in junior Cody Croasdale and sophomore Paul Houseknecht, as well as its 2009 sack leader, junior Justin DiMatteo.
“We’re going to use a lot of different formations and bring several different looks,” Corey said. “We’ll use our power running game and spread the field to throw vertically when we get the opportunity.”
On the other side of the ball, Cornell will attempt to frustrate a weak Mansfield offense that was shut out in four contests in 2009. The Red has a potent defensive line itself. One of the pieces is Ithaca native and Second-team All-CSFL selection Tim Kozen, who led the team in sacks and tackles for lost yardage a season ago. In addition, the Red possesses a strong linebacker unit, led by the duo of senior co-captain Clay Hemminger and senior Prys Carvolth.
Although the matchup appears lopsided on paper, Cornell knows it cannot overlook the Mountaineers, particularly because of its boisterous crowd.
“Mansifeld is really capable of anything,” Mackintosh said. “We have to come out focused. We have some goals as a team for the season, but it all starts tomorrow.”
One of those goals is to win the CSFL title, which Cornell hasn’t done since 2006, when the current senior class was filling out applications to come to Ithaca.
“We’ll have to improve before the end of the season to [win the league],” Mackintosh said. “But we think we have what it takes.”
The quest starts tomorrow morning, when the Red will travel 75 miles on a bus to Mansfield before the 1 p.m. kickoff.
“I think if we just play within ourselves and execute, we’ll win the game,” Cullen said.
Original Author: Quintin Schwab