For the second straight season, Cornell recorded its first win of the season against Columbia, capturing its second straight Empire State Bowl. In a game that featured more quarters than points, freshman kicker Zach Mays’s field goal on the first drive of the game was all that was necessary to capture the win.
“I was psyched to go into the locker room man. I was ready,” exclaimed senior safety Rush Imhotep, unable to control his smile. “Happy to get the dub.”
On the offensive side of the ball, the Red kept plays small, averaging 3.33 yards per play in the game. It was the first time the Red won a game with fewer than 200 total yards of offense since 2009, a 14-12 win over Yale.
A majority of the yardage came from senior running back Luke Hagy’s 74 yards from scrimmage. His 60 rushing yards propelled him into the list of top-five rushers in Cornell football history.
“Heading in, the [gameplan] was to emphasize Hagy on senior day because I think he’s one of the most talented, if not the most talented, backs in the league,” said head coach David Archer ’05.
Apart from Mays’ field goal, the first half saw a great deal of back and forth action. For the most part, each drive saw about one or two first downs, but soon after neither team could generate much momentum and the ball was punted away. The two teams recorded nine total punts in the first half, but luckily for the Red, senior Chris Fraser has done a great job giving the defense great field position.
“[Fraser] certainly changes your decision making because you know what he’s capable of, so you calculate in your head, ‘okay, what can he do if the drive stalls here? What kind of field position will they get?’” Archer said. “Even kicking into the wind there was a time when he was able to flip the field, so he’s a great weapon.”
Against a first-half dominant team in Columbia, the Red’s defense was crisp, tight and solid, allowing only 14 passing and 98 rushing yards in the first half. It was the first time Cornell was able to keep its opponent scoreless since a 21-0 win over Yale in 1993.
“It’s unbelievable how resilient this defense has been especially today,” said senior linebacker JJ Fives. “I think we really put four quarters together. It’s obvious with the shutout.”
Just when the crowd thought they were going to see the eleventh punt of the game before the fourth quarter started, Columbia fake the punt, trying to rush for the five yards it needed for a first down. When the chains were brought and it was revealed that the ball was inches shy of the first down, the Cornell sideline exploded.
The majority of the second half played out in a similar pattern: Cornell made a strong defensive stand that ended in a forced turnover or punt, then the Red would go three-and-out. Rinse, wash and repeat.
The Lions threatened late in the game, Columbia quarterback Anders Hill rushed for what would have been the go-ahead touchdown, but a holding call brought it back. On the same drive, after a huge sack by sophomore linebacker Kurt Frimel, Columbia’s potential game-tying field goal was wide right.
Cornell took over and used rush plays to burn time off the clock and come away with the victory.
While Saturday’s win spells the first win of the season for the Red, it comes as a bittersweet victory as the senior’s last home game. The 21 seniors on the Red’s squad will be leaving behind years of dedication to the football program.
“I couldn’t be happier for these seniors and this group of guys,” Fives said. “It’s been challenging and I don’t think our record reflects how resilient this group has been.
The celebrations will, undoubtedly, be shared by the entire team, but today’s win might not have been possible without the leadership of the seniors.
“I am just so happy for these seniors,” Archer said. “These guys are unreal … It is easy to be a leader in great times, it is easy to be all-in on football in great times but these guys have been all-in through some bad times and today is senior day and it is their day.”