November 7, 2010

Second-Half Surge Leads Dartmouth Past Cornell Football

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In a tale of two halves, the Cornell football team fell to longtime rival Dartmouth at Schoellkopf Field on Saturday afternoon. After emerging victorious through the first 30 minutes of play, the Red was outscored, 21-0, in the third and fourth quarters to drop to 1-4 in the Ivy League.

Despite seven first-half sacks of freshman quarterback Jeff Mathews, three drops by the usually sure-handed junior wide receiver Shane Savage and a Mathews fumble in opposing territory, the Red (2-6, 1-4 Ivy League) finished the second quarter leading the Green (5-3, 2-3 Ivy League), 10-7. The second half was a different story, though, as the Cornell offense stalled and the Red defense slowly caved in against a physical Dartmouth rushing attack.

Mistakes hurt the Red early and often, beginning with back-to-back enforced penalties before the first play from scrimmage. Cornell would ultimately escape the first and 25 hole that the penalties put it in with consecutive 12-yard and 13-yard catches by Savage, but an eventual sack of Mathews in Dartmouth territory put an end to the team’s first offensive possession.

“That’s tough to convert,” laughed head coach Kent Austin in frustration at a post-game press conference. “We have to be almost assignment-perfect. We’ve got to continue to be creative enough on offense to put our players into a position to be successful.”

The ensuing three Red possessions ended in similar fashion, as Cornell’s freshman quarterback was sacked on third down to conclude each drive. The biggest blow came on the team’s second possession, when Mathews was hit and fumbled on the Green 20-yard line. The sack was one of 10 allowed by the Red throughout the game –– a season-high for the young quarterback and offensive line –– and negated a possible scoring opportunity for the team.

“We’re not a good enough football team right now physically to be in third and long situations against a good defense and a well-coached teams,” Austin said. “We need to get first downs on first down and first downs on second down.”

If Cornell’s opening drive was a strikeout, Dartmouth’s was a homerun, as the Green marched 60 yards on seven plays to take a 7-0 lead with 7:03 remaining in the first quarter. On the scoring drive, Dartmouth running back Nick Schwieger carried the ball three times for 21 yards and quarterback Connor Kempe completed all three of his pass attempts to wide receiver Tim McManus –– including a seven-yard touchdown strike to get the Green on the board.

The Red’s offense finally emerged with 9:40 left in the second quarter, in large part due to the instinctive play of senior cornerback Emani Fenton on the play before. With Dartmouth backed up at its own three yard-line, Fenton jumped an out-route and intercepted Kempe’s pass to give Cornell possession at the opponent’s 12-yard line. Sophomore wide receiver followed up Fenton’s great play with one of his own, receiving the ball on an end-around handoff and running into the end zone to tie the game at seven.

“They pursue well to the football, especially off the edge, and we thought that would be a great play to pull out this week,” Austin said.

After a punt ended its next offensive possession, Cornell got the ball with 3:11 remaining in the quarter and in great field position at its own 49-yard line. Two passes to junior tight end Ryan Houska and a couple of productive plays from freshman running back Grant Gellatly found the Red at Dartmouth’s 32 with a chance for kicker Brad Greenway to give the team the lead with under a minute to play. The senior kicker’s 49-yard field goal –– the team’s longest since 1995 and the sixth longest in Cornell’s history –– sailed through the uprights and put the Red up, 10-7, going into the half.

“That definitely got us going,” Houska said. “I think that was one of our best finishes to a first half; to go down, get a drive going and get some points.”

The momentum that Cornell had built going into the break was quickly deflated when the Red took the field for the final 30 minutes of play. Fielding Greenway’s kickoff at Dartmouth’s 18-yard line, Green kick returner Shawn Abuhoff ran down to the Red’s 32 before being stopped by Kevin Laird. Schwieger made quick use of the great starting field position, carrying the ball three times for 32 yards, including an 18-yard run to the house to put Dartmouth on top to stay, 14-10.

“[Schwieger is] a very good back, we knew that going in,” Austin said. “I’d hand the ball off to him too if I had him.”

Physically outmatched, Cornell struggled on both sides of the ball from the onset of the second half. The offense sputtered, only gaining three first downs in the third and fourth quarters and not running one play in Dartmouth territory, and the defense folded, allowing Schwieger to net 125 yards in the second half.

“They got momentum going, they got excited and they just got after us,” Houska said. “I don’t think it was too much they were doing scheme-wise, they were just making plays.”

The Green’s success came entirely on the ground, adding fourth quarter touchdown runs by Schwieger (22 yards) and backup running back Dominic Pierre (11 yards) to pad the lead and emerge victorious, 28-10.

“We just physically couldn’t hold up, that’s just as honest as I can be about it,” Austin said. “They beat us up front, we couldn’t protect Jeff and we couldn’t run the ball.”

Despite the lackluster second half offensive performance, Mathews was sharp and accurate for most of the afternoon, earning the praise of Dartmouth head coach Buddy Teevens.

“Mathews is a good quarterback. He’s going to be a tremendous quarterback in this league,” Teevens said. “He throws the ball, he’s a tough kid and he took a bunch of hits.”

Mathews finished 21 of 33 for 164 yards with his one mistake through the air coming early in the fourth quarter when Chase Womack of Dartmouth intercepted a deep ball down the right sideline. Savage, who saw a few passes slip through his hands early on, displayed a short memory throughout the game and caught a team-high seven passes for 73. Gellatly led a nonexistent running performance with a 34-yard effort on nine carries.

Original Author: Dan Froats