While many rulings in football are up to the referees’ interpretation, some rules are set in stone. For instance, touchdowns will always be worth six points, field goals will always be worth three and regulation will always last for 60 minutes. Unfortunately for the Cornell football team, which hung with rival Harvard for 45 minutes before folding in defeat in the final quarter on Saturday afternoon, the last rule mentioned above is not up for dispute. “Like coach [Kent Austin] says, we need to play for 60 minutes. We need to do that every week,” said senior cornerback Emani Fenton. “We didn’t play 60 minutes on Saturday.”After combining for just 13 points through the first three quarters, Harvard and Cornell exploded for 35 points in the fourth quarter in Cambridge, Mass., on Saturday. Unfortunately for the Red, the Crimson did more of the scoring and emerged as the victors, 31-17.Despite being out-gained by nearly 300 yards and allowing eight sacks of freshman quarterback Jeff Mathews, Cornell (1-3, 0-2 Ivy) held strong in its long-time rival’s backyard and entered the fourth quarter down just a touchdown. Mathews overcame an early interception and finished 16-33 for 125 yards and two scores on the afternoon. Junior running back Nick-Booker Tandy led the way for the Red on the ground, gaining 53 yards on just four carries highlighted by a 39-yard scamper in the fourth quarter.On the defensive side of the ball, the Red did little to stop the Crimson (3-1, 1-1 Ivy) from accumulating yards but did prove to be opportunistic when necessary; Cornell forced three Harvard turnovers throughout the game, twice intercepting quarterback Colton Chapple in the first half and forcing a key fumble by Chapple in the third quarter. “We have a lot of guys who are comfortable with the defensive scheme and understand what is expected of them,” said Fenton, who was the recipient of Chapple’s first interception of the game. “Secondly, we have some playmakers on our defense. Across our defense we just have some guys that can make plays.”Despite the many takeaways, the Crimson offense proved to be too much for Cornell and eventually wore down the Red defense in the fourth quarter.“Physically we just couldn’t hold up in the second half,” said head coach Kent Austin in a post-game press conference. “Our defense got tired and our offense didn’t do enough in the first half to keep our defense off the football field.”Freshman quarterback Jeff Mathews admitted that the offense was part to blame for the defense’s decline in the second half, referring to several missed opportunities in the first thirty minutes that not only could have put points on the board for the Red but also could have kept the defense resting on the sidelines.“I thought our defense played really well for three quarters,” Mathews said. “It’s hard for them to be on the field the whole time and I think that falls on our offense. If our offense can play better I know that we can compete and beat these teams.”Harvard got on the board first at the 3:35 mark in the game’s opening quarter when running back Gino Gordon rushed into the end zone for a 19-yard score. Gordon led the Crimson in rushing on the afternoon, accumulating 158 yards on 21 carries.Neither team scored again until the third quarter, at which point Harvard kicker David Mothander capped off a 71-yard drive with a 25-yard field goal to extend the Crimson lead to 10 points.After a fumble by Harvard quarterback Colton Chapple set the Red up with great field position at the Crimson 5-yard line, Cornell kicker Brad Greenway made a field goal of his own and sent the Red into the fourth quarter down, 10-3.From that point forward it was as if a switch was flipped and both teams could finally find the end zone. Harvard did so first, as Chapple hooked up with wide receiver Levi Richards for a 21-yard pass and catch to put the Crimson up, 17-3. After back-to-back sacks of Mathews forced Cornell to punt on the ensuing possession, Harvard got the ball back near midfield and scored in just three plays on a 43-yard run by running back Rich Zajeski.“If you have freshman tackles on the edge they are going to get a real wakeup call like this, and they did,” said Austin in reference to the eight sacks allowed by the Red on the afternoon. “But at the same time, we’ve made a commitment to put our physically best players on the football field regardless of age.”Mathews claims that significant progress is already being made for the young and talented offensive line.“We have young linemen right now and they are getting better everyday,” Mathews said. “[Opposing teams] might get us a couple of times and we’ll live with that as long as we can bounce back and not make the same mistake twice. I thought our offensive line really battled throughout the game.”The entire team battled, as a matter of fact, and a 39-yard run by Booker-Tandy got the Red within striking distance at the Harvard 21-yard line with just under eight minutes to play. Two plays later, Mathews found junior tight end Ryan Houska for a 13-yard score. After the extra point was blocked Cornell was down 24-9 with 7:03 remaining in the game.As was the case all afternoon, though, Harvard quickly answered Cornell’s score with one of its own. Once again Harvard used just three plays to score, as a 65-yard run by Gordon and 12-yard pass interference penalty on the Red allowed Chapple to run for 2 yards into the end zone.“[Giving up quick scores] is tough on us,” Fenton said. “When you hold a team’s offense for pretty much the whole game and then they hit you with quick strikes it can be really hurtful to the defense. We have to do a better job eliminating the big play.”The game’s final seven minutes were relatively uneventful until Mathews found junior wide receiver Shane Savage for a 7-yard touchdown with just four seconds to play. After the Mathews-Savage duo hooked up on a two-point conversion, Harvard killed the clock and survived with a 31-17 victory.While the term “a moral victory” ranks among the most overused sports clichés in the media today, it is perhaps still relevant in analyzing the Red’s loss to the Crimson. For three quarters, Cornell hung with the preseason favorite to win the Ivy League and did so behind the play of several young players and a first-year coaching staff. The Red now believes that it can beat any team in the league if it plays a complete game, something that the team will try to do this upcoming weekend against Colgate.
“Year in and year out Harvard is at the top of our conference,” Fenton said. “I think we definitely gained some confidence and realized that we can play with anybody. That’s something that we can take away from the game, if we play for 60 minutes we can beat anybody when we step out on the field.”
Original Author: Dan Froats