On Cornell football’s first drive of the game on Saturday, the team methodically worked down the field. Behind strong runs from senior running back Luke Hagy, the offense found itself with a first down on Bucknell’s 20-yard line. A penalty and a couple of miscues later, and the team was forced to attempt a field goal on the 17-yard line. The snap was botched and freshman kicker Zach Mays missed the kick wide left.
It was that kind of day for Cornell. The Red (0-1) was able to put together strong offensive and defensive drives, but mental lapses throughout the game caused the team to fall to Bucknell (2-1), 19-14.
The Red held a 14-10 lead with less than two minutes to go and faced a Bucknell fourth-and-goal at the Cornell 10-yard line. However, Bucknell’s quarterback R.J. Nitti completed a pass to Joey DeFloria as he was being knocked down by Cornell’s defenders for the go-ahead score.
Head coach David Archer ’05 called the play “miraculous.”
“I thought we intercepted it,” Archer said. “As I saw Nitti going down I thought, ‘we’re winning this football game’ … Then once I realized what happened, I’m still in disbelief.”
The game winning drive was aided by several mistakes from the Cornell defense. A missed assignment in the secondary allowed the Bison to pick up 26 yards on a 3rd-and-17 at Cornell’s 40-yard line. Another misread on defense let Bucknell convert a 4th-and-five, bringing the Bison in the red zone.
“Mental lapses come with the first game,” Archer said. “I think part of that is first game stuff. We’re not the NFL where we get preseason games to kind of work through it. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the hand we’re dealt. We don’t have that margin for error and today it came back to cost us.”
After a scoreless first period, Cornell and Bucknell traded touchdowns in the second quarter. Following the Bison’s touchdown, junior quarterback Robert Somborn found junior receiver Collin Shaw at the 20-yard line to pick up 41 yards. After sophomore running back Josh Sweet was stopped for no game, Somborn handed off the ball to Hagy, who scampered around to the outside. He eluded a defender before jumping into the endzone, tying the game.
Hagy finished 114 rushing yards, giving him over 100 yards for the fourth straight time, dating back to last season. He also added a reception for 12 yards. All game, Hagy seemed to find openings in the defensive line and picked up long gains throughout the contest. He averaged almost six yards per carry.
Later in the second period, with Bucknell facing a third-and-17 with less than a minute left, Nitti lofted up a long pass. Sophomore Nick Gesualdi and junior James Solomon swarmed the receiver batting the ball into the outstretched hands of senior Rush Imhotep.
All game, the secondary had broken up passes and made it difficult for Nitti to find his receivers. The defensive backs had a number of timely stops and broke up several passes that would have been long gains or touchdowns. On the day, Nitti completed just 18 of his 31 passes.
The defense as a whole did a much better job containing Bucknell than it did last year. The Bison finished with 286 yards of offense, far fewer than last year, when they amassed 420 yards.
“The defense did some really good things out there today,” Archer said. “There’s going to be some plays that we look at and say, ‘I wish we had that one back,’ but there’s a lot of plays we’re going to look at and say ‘wow, we looked a lot better than we used to be in the past.’”
“I thought the defense played great today,” Hagy said. “They picked us up at times when we needed them. They got some big stops.”
Cornell’s second touchdown came in the fourth quarter when Somborn hit sophomore receiver James Hubbard with a 20-yard pass to give Cornell the lead. Hubbard’s three catches were the first of his career and his 60 receiving yards led the team.
After Nitti’s touchdown, mistakes plagued Cornell. Somborn was intercepted on the first pass of the drive. The Red was able to get the ball back for one last chance, but Somborn fumbled the ball on a sack and lost 24 yards. The game ended when a botched snap sailed past Somborn out of the end zone, giving Bucknell a safety.
Despite the loss, Archer said he saw many positives in the game.
When asked if Saturday’s performance was better than all of last year’s games, Archer said: “If you want to talk results, probably not. If you want to talk process and leadership and growth, it blows them all out of the water. I got a bunch of seniors who are really raising the bar in how we practice and how we prepare.”
“I’m really proud of our team and the growth we’ve had,” Hagy, a captain of the team, said. “This is an extremely tough loss, but in terms of the offense, we might have only had 14 points, but we moved the ball. I don’t know if we had a three and out today. We got a first down on almost every drive, which is huge.”
In front of the largest crowd for a football game at Schoellkopf since 2000, Cornell brought enthusiasm to the game unlike at any point in recent memory.
“There was a lot of energy on the sideline that I haven’t seen in the past since I’ve been here,” said senior cornerback Del Barnes. ‘I just think we were in that game every step of the way, and the scoreboard doesn’t reflect how good of a team we were today. We’re not going to let it get us down. But moving forward I just think that what we saw on the sidelines today is really going to roll over into Week 2 when we play Yale.”