November 3, 2011

FOOTBALL | Historical Rivalry Resumes in Hanover

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It has been 71 years since the famous “Fifth Down Game” between Cornell and Dartmouth — still the only collegiate sporting contest ever to be determined off the field after its completion. The top-ranked Red displayed unprecedented sportsmanship by relinquishing a victory over the Green, 7-3, after it was clear the officials erroneously awarded Cornell an extra play on the game-winning drive.

While the 95th meeting in the series on Saturday in Hanover, N.H., at 1:30 p.m. will most likely not be as legendary as the 1940 matchup, it features two rebuilding Ivy League rivals each hungry for their second conference win of the season.

The Red (3-4, 1-3 Ivy League) is coming off its first Ivy win on Saturday, a convincing 24-7 road win against Princeton in the snow, while the Green (2-5, 1-3) was dominated last week by Harvard, 41-10, after shutting out Columbia, 37-0, for its lone Ancient Eight win on Oct. 22.

Dartmouth is the second straight opponent for Cornell with a losing Ivy record, after the Red faced the Top-3 Ivy teams — Harvard, Yale and Brown — in its first conference games.

The Green brings the sixth-ranked scoring offense in the Ivies (20.3 points per game) into the contest, and ranks No. 7 in yardage (280.1 yards per game). Senior quarterback Conner Kempe, the Green’s game manager, has completed 51.6 percent of his passes for 758 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions.

Carrying the load is senior running back Nick Schwieger, who has gained 759 yards and scored seven touchdowns on the ground, with a lofty 5.1 yards per carry average. Sophomore running back Dominick Pierre complements Schwieger for a solid Green rushing attack, pitching in almost 43 yards a game in addition to three touchdowns in 2011.

“We have to tackle [Schwieger] well and gang tackle. [We] always just have to have a lot of people swarming the football,” said freshman defensive back Andrew Nelson of the 5-10, 210-pound Schwieger.

Nelson broke through with his first career interception and 10 tackles in the win over the Tigers.

The Green’s running game is arguably the team’s best facet, but its defense has trouble stopping the run. Dartmouth opponents have racked up 1,542 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground, with a 5.1 yards per carry average. That bodes well for Red senior tight end Ryan Houska, who breathed life into Cornell’s ground game at Princeton, producing the program’s first 100-yard rushing game since Randy Barbour ’10 ran for 120 yards in a loss to Columbia two years ago.

Houska was particularly effective in the second half, when he picked up six touches in three out of four possessions, earning first downs and chewing up the clock. The senior finished with 108 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries, relieving sophomore quarterback Jeff Mathews of some pressure in the tough conditions. The Red offense recognizes the importance of balance, regardless of the weather.

“It’s very important to have balance because the run opens up the pass and the pass opens up the run,” said senior wide receiver Shane Savage, who has a reception in all 27 career games. “We have to make sure we get somewhere around 50-50 of our plays [each run and pass]. That’s why Houska having a 100-yard game is huge for us, because now people have to worry, ‘Who’s this guy in the backfield?’”

The players blocking for Houska agree. The Cornell offensive line, which includes four first year starters, has improved tremendously since last year in terms of pass protection, but it has not been able to hold off defenders consistently in the running game.

“Especially with the pass being so good, the running game is something we need to consistently pound by opening up holes,” said junior center Bob Bullington, the Red’s most experienced offensive lineman. “If we don’t have a solid running base, we’re going to see a lot of blitzes and it’s going to make it harder for Jeff to throw the ball. So opening up the run and eating up a little bit of clock is something that’s going to be huge for us and something we’re looking to do this week.”

Luckily for the Red, Mathews can handle the offensive burden. The sophomore averages just shy of 300 yards per game for the best Ivy passing attack. A lackluster Green pass rush, which has produced only six sacks through the team’s first seven games — led by three from senior defensive tackle Eddie Smith — figures to only make it easier on the rapidly developing sophomore.

“[Jeff] is the man — he’s doing big things,” Savage said. “I can’t believe he still has two years left. He’s going to go a long ways and do well.”

“Jeff is a real leader,” Bullington said. “He does take some hits and he’s always an upbeat kid, directing the offense and making sure everything is where it needs to be to be successful.”

Although Mathews registered his second-lowest mark of the season against the Tigers with 224 yards, it was perhaps one of the most impressive games of his career, and one that indicates he is elite.

“It gives us a lot of confidence knowing we can throw for [224] yards and we probably could have thrown well into the 300s if we didn’t mess up on some plays,” Savage said. “We definitely had to fight through a lot of mental blocks — the first half was mostly just getting used to the snow.”

Cornell last won Ivy road contests in back-to-back weeks a decade ago. Coincidentally, the Red defeated Princeton and Dartmouth, on Oct. 27 and Nov. 3, 2001, respectively. As such, a victory against the Green could prove to be a turning point for the program, according to Nelson.

“Winning two straight Ivy League games on the road would be big — it’s another step to where we want to go,” he said.

“Finishing with a winning record overall and a winning Ivy record would show everyone how far we’ve come and how far we’re going to go,” Bullington added. “Especially with us not really losing too many players overall … it would give us momentum closing out the season the right way and heading into next year.”

Original Author: Quintin Schwab