By SCOTT CHIUSANO
The Cornell football team will enter its final game of the season as a different beast, one with a win now under its built, hungering for one more victory as fuel for the future. A Penn squad that has been unimpressive so far this season stands in the Red’s way in what promises to be another showdown of teams squabbling for position at the bottom of the Ivy League.
The victory over Columbia was a relief for the Red, but one that senior co-captain and wide receiver Lucas Shapiro said was a long time coming.
“We have known all season that we are a good team that can compete with anyone, we just haven’t put together a full game,” he said. “Finally against Columbia we executed our game plan and played to our potential.”
Penn’s statistics this season have been no short of underwhelming. Their total offense ranks third worst in the Ivy League, surpassing only Cornell and Columbia, but their defense — which has allowed a total of 4,277 yards — is even weaker, only marginally better than the Lions’.
The Red took advantage of that porous Columbia defense last weekend, and will look to do the same on Saturday. However it is Cornell’s defense, which held the Lions scoreless in a crucial fourth quarter, that has the ability to tip the scales in the Red’s favor against Penn. Cornell’s defense ranks fifth in the league (fourth in pass defense, third in interceptions), and can be successful again this weekend if the unit can limit Penn’s passing game.
Quaker quarterback Alex Torgersen is second in the Ivy League in passing average per game, and also leads the league’s signal callers in completions and attempts.
“As a defense we have the same focuses and goals as we have had all season,” said fifth-year senior defensive lineman Justin Harris. “We just have to play with extreme passion and especially this being our last game, we have to leave it all out on the field.”
A blocked PAT by senior linebacker Taylor Betros and a subsequent return for a defensive two-point conversion by junior cornerback Jarrod-Watson Lewis proved a pivotal turning point in last weekend’s victory. Coercing the Quakers into coughing up the ball will once again be a driving factor for the Red defense on Saturday.
“Of course as always it’s all about the ball. We are going to focus on forcing turnovers all game versus Penn,” Harris said.
For Cornell’s seniors, the 12:30 matchup against the Quakers poses an opportunity to end the season with two consecutive wins. If history is any indication, the Red has a knack for doing just that — the classes of 2014 and 2012 both closed out their own careers on the Hill with two straight victories over Columbia and Penn respectively.
“[A win] would mean everything to our senior class,” Shapiro said. “Obviously this season hasn’t gone the way we wanted to or expected it to, so to walk off the field in the last game of our careers with a win would be an accomplishment.”
According to Harris, a victory would also mean a confidence boost for the underclassmen who will determine the future of the program. A young roster fell short this season, but with the return of junior running back Luke Hagy — who shouldered a significant portion of the offensive load this season — and with four young quarterbacks who all saw time under center, the Red has a host of talent to develop for 2015.
“A lot of young guys have gotten experience this year, including the QBs, which is going to pay dividends next season when other teams graduated a lot of seniors and have inexperience on their team,” Shapiro said. “We have a lot of guys who have the drive to get a lot better in the offseason and will lead this team to a better season each and every year.”