October 30, 2011

FOOTBALL | Houska Carries Cornell to First Ivy League Victory of Season

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The Cornell football team used a balanced attack to win its first Ivy League contest of the season and snap a three-game losing streak on Saturday afternoon in a snowy white Princeton Stadium, running away after halftime and topping the Tigers, 24-7.Senior tight end Ryan Houska rushed for 108 yards and a touchdown, sophomore quarterback Jeff Mathews managed 224 yards and a score through the air despite the inclement weather and the Red defense stopped Princeton (1-6, 1-3 Ivy League) on four fourth-down opportunities to help Cornell (3-4, 1-3) win its first conference road game in eight tries, and its first in Princeton, N.J. since 2001.The matchup was a defensive and special teams battle, particularly in the first half, and it was not always pretty. Cornell totaled 74 yards on 28 plays before the break, with only three first downs. Princeton nearly doubled that production, generating 142 yards, but a poor snap to Tigers punter Joe Cloud nine minutes into the game forced him to his knees to corral the ball and the play was blown dead — a mirror image of the Red’s third-quarter blunder in a home loss to Harvard on Oct. 8. The misstep led directly to a 28-yard field goal into the wind from senior kicker and punter Brad Greenway — who became the all-time leading scorer for kickers at Cornell — for the first points of the game. Each team coughed it up four times on the afternoon, although only one out of the eight fumbles was lost to the opponent.“We knew the weather was going to be pretty bad, but we weren’t really expecting snow,” Greenway said. “We had to be disciplined. It was hard to kick, it was hard to throw and guys were slipping a lot. It was an experience that nobody on the team has ever played in, but it’s just one of those things you can’t worry too much about because you can’t control it.”Shortly before halftime, Princeton freshman tailback Will Powers blocked a Greenway punt, which was downed on the Cornell 20-yard line. After two runs by freshman tailback Chuck Dibilio gained only one yard, Tigers senior quarterback Tommy Wornham hit Dibilio for the first touchdown of the contest on a 19-yard score.But Red senior cornerback and kick returner Rashad Campbell made Princeton’s lead short-lived, becoming the first player in school history to run two kickoffs back for touchdowns in the same season. Campbell cruised untouched on a 78-yard burst, earning the visitors the lead for good, 10-7.“What I figured out from my first kickoff was that I couldn’t make cuts in [the snowy] weather — I just had to run,” Campbell said. “I saw a hole as soon as I caught the ball and my teammates got out front and blocked. I hit the hole as fast as I could, got around the kicker and it was just a race to the end zone from there.”Wornham’s touchdown was enough to grant him the start in the second half over freshman quarterback Quinn Epperly, who led two first-half drives that were both stopped on fourth-and-short in the Cornell red zone. Senior defensive end Zack Imhoff and sophomore defensive end Kevin Marchand stuffed Epperly on fourth-and-2 from the Cornell 20 with 12:52 to play in the first half, and on the next drive, junior linebacker Cody Roberts sacked the freshman for a seven-yard loss on fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line.The teams swapped punts to open the second half before the Red defense forced its 12th turnover of 2011. Senior linebacker Brandon Lainhart, who finished with 10 tackles, creamed Epperly on the Red five-yard line and the ball flew out of the back of the end zone for a touchback.“The defense played tough all day,” Campbell said. “It was one of those games where you didn’t know exactly what the other team was doing, but you had to go out and make plays. [Princeton] did make plays, but we made bigger plays when the time was called for.”Cornell methodically drove down the field, using its senior threats to put together a nine-play, 80-yard possession. Six carries from Houska for 25 yards were mixed in with four completions by Mathews, three of which went to senior Shane Savage — the Ivy League’s leading receiver — for a total of 49 yards. The last Houska attempt found pay dirt from three yards out, as the Red increased its advantage, 17-7, with 2:38 remaining in the third quarter.Cornell senior defensive back Nick Booker-Tandy recorded his second interception of the season, and his career, on Princeton’s next drive. The Red went three-and-out on the ensuing possession, but Booker-Tandy rose to the occasion once again, knocking down an Epperly pass intended for senior wide receiver Isaac Serwanga on fourth-and-7 from the Cornell 27-yard line with 12:37 to play. Epperly completed only 4-of-10 passes for 50 yards and two interceptions, though he did run for 96 yards on 16 attempts, while the workhorse Dibilio added 158 yards on 32 carries.“[Princeton] ran a little more than we anticipated, but that didn’t really change our game plan,” Campbell said. “It took everyone a while to get used to the conditions, but we got it going in the second half after we made adjustments at halftime.”The Red marched on another impressive scoring drive, going 73 yards on 12 plays and milking 5:45 off the clock. Houska and Mathews again picked apart the Tigers defense, but this time junior wide receiver Kurt Ondash was Mathews’ primary target, catching four of the five completions for 35 yards. Mathews found Ondash in the back of the end zone on third-and-8, and the junior tapped his feet down inbounds for a 10-yard touchdown to put the game out of reach, 24-7, with 6:52 to play. Ondash finished with 62 yards on six catches, while Savage gained 62 on five receptions and junior wide receiver Luke Tasker added five catches for a team-best 73 yards.Freshman defensive back Andrew Nelson, who registered 10 tackles on the day, came down with a deflected pass for his first career interception to put the cap on a strong defensive showing for the Red. Cornell played keep-away for the remaining 5:23, as Houska took the final six carries of his 26-rush game and Mathews rubbed it in with a 35-yard completion to Tasker on third-and-9.“Ryan had a huge day,” Greenway said. “He kind of put the team on his back and when it came to closing down the game at the end, it was pretty much all him. We went back to basic football, where it’s running the ball and not trying to be too difficult. Jeff did an unbelievable job — he still threw for [224] yards — but when you have weather like that, you’re definitely going to change your approach.”Cornell looks to win Ivy games in back-to-back weeks for the first time since 2006, when it defeated Princeton and Dartmouth consecutively, on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. against the Green in Hanover, N.H.“We still have to take it one game at a time,” Greenway said. “We started the season [against] three of the best teams in the Ivy League with Yale, Harvard and Brown. Not to take anything away from the teams we’re playing coming up, but we definitely believe we can win out and go 6-4 and 4-3 in the Ivy League.”

Original Author: Quintin Schwab