October 27, 2011

FOOTBALL | Red Hopes for First Ivy Win of Season

Print More

The last Ivy League football team Cornell defeated, also the only one during head coach Kent Austin’s tenure, is Princeton. Looking to snap a three-game losing streak after a promising beginning to the season, the Red faces the Tigers again on Saturday at 1 p.m. in Princeton, N.J., 364 days after its two-point win on Schoellkopf Field.The Red (2-4, 0-3 Ivy League) and the Tigers (1-5, 1-2) finished seventh and eighth, respectively, in the Ancient Eight last year — by virtue of the head-to-head contest — and although Princeton earned a home victory over Columbia on Oct. 1, both teams sit in the bottom half of the league again in 2011.Nonetheless, the rivalry does not lack excitement. Ten of the previous 11 contests were decided by seven points or fewer, including Cornell’s 2010 triumph, 21-19, propelled by a pass break-up on a two-point conversion and a last-second interception by cornerback Emani Fenton ’11. The Red’s six-game Ivy drought since then has left the players uneasy, particularly because the team missed opportunities in matchups this year against Yale, Harvard and, most recently, Brown.“We kind of shot ourselves in the foot the last couple weeks, especially defensively, so we’re definitely looking forward to the opportunity to get back on track,” said sophomore safety Josh Barut, who recorded a team-best 15 tackles in last week’s home loss against the Bears, 35-24. “We’re really eager to get back our play from the beginning of the season.”Coming off a 402-yard performance, sophomore quarterback Jeff Mathews leads the charge for the Red against a porous Princeton defense that allows roughly 34.5 points per game. Despite the production of junior defensive lineman Caraun Reid, who leads the Tigers with five sacks and 10 tackles for loss in 2011, Mathews and an explosive Red offense figure to have their way on Saturday. Cornell has already posted 28 plays of 20 or more yards on the season. However, the offensive line has softened a bit after a masterful first three games — Brown sacked Mathews six times.“Half of those sacks came at the end of the game, when [Brown] didn’t have any gap responsibility and wasn’t playing the run,” Austin said. “We’ve gotten behind in a few games and I think Jeff has held onto the ball to try to make plays and get us into the end zone, but overall I’m very pleased with how our offensive line has played this year.”Princeton’s offense, on the other hand, has struggled in 2011, producing 117 points through six contests (19.3 points per game). However, one-third of those points came in a shootout defeat, 56-39, at Harvard on Saturday. Slumping senior quarterback Tommy Wornham, who has thrown five touchdowns and eight interceptions on the year, offered one of his best games of the season against the Crimson, throwing for 277 yards and a touchdown on 21-of-36 passing. Freshman tailback Chuck Dibilio added 135 yards and two scores on the ground.Sophomore running back Brian Mills, junior running back Akil Sharp and Wornham also contribute to the Tigers potent rushing game, which has tallied 1,116 yards, six touchdowns and 4.6 yards per carry this season.For the Red, senior tight end Ryan Houska surpassed sophomore running back Grant Gellatly as the team’s leading rusher with a 54-yard performance last week. Even though the wide receiver trio of senior Shane Savage and juniors Luke Tasker and Kurt Ondash accounts for nearly 70 percent of the squad’s yardage and scoring, the versatile Houska is a key component of the Red attack.“I’m up for any position [or] any responsibility [the coaching staff] gives me,” Houska said. In addition to the 219 rushing yards, the senior has caught 12 balls for 112 yards (he also converted a two-point conversion pass to senior fullback Nick Mlady during the dramatic comeback against Colgate on Oct. 15). “I just get in the film room and try to understand what the opposing defense is doing and I do whatever gives us the best opportunity to get the win.”

Cornell has had the opportunity to win in most of its 2011 losses. The team has taken a giant step forward statistically this season, but has not been able to execute at critical moments and make game results reflect the improvement.“A lot of it is just discipline and execution of our assignments,” Barut said. “We’re making plays out there, but every now and then we’re giving up big plays or making mental errors or whatever it may be. We just have to clean up our game and we should be in good shape.”The Cornell defense, despite flashes of being the polar opposite of last year’s unit, allows 393.5 yards per game and has surrendered more than 30 points in all but two contests. The Cornell offense has reached the 30-point mark only twice, and has misfired on several possessions in opponent territory that could have turned games into the Red’s favor.Houska and Austin believe the team’s sub-.500 record is partly due to mentality.“To be honest, it is all kind of between the ears,” Houska said. “Mentally we need to believe we can make those plays happen. Guys need to step up and make those plays down the stretch — that’s going to be the difference between a good record and what we have now.”“We’re not a mature football team yet,” Austin said. “What we experience both positively and negatively in a game is hard to simulate in practice. But as a coaching staff, we’re trying to accelerate that maturing process as fast as we can.”

Original Author: Quintin Schwab