November 14, 2015

Cornell Football Finds Victory Over Columbia in Kicking Game Despite Season-Long Struggles

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It certainly is not a secret that the Cornell football team has struggled with its place kickers so far this season. Coming into Saturday 3-0 victory over Columbia, the Red jumped between sending freshman kicker Zach Mays and junior kicker Joe Pierik out on field goals. Neither kicker found much success through the team’s first eight games of the season, making only three of nine field goal opportunities this season.

So there is a certain irony when the Red (1-8, 1-5 Ivy) came out of the Empire State Bowl with a victory by the margin of one field goal, the only scoring by either team on the afternoon. In a season of few “ups” and many “downs” for head coach David Archer’s ’05 place kicking unit, the team’s win on Saturday by three points certainly deviated from the expectation for the field goal unit this season.

“That one was certainly an up,” Archer said. “How about that.”

Junior punter Chris Fraser, who Archer called “one of the two best punters in the country,” played a major role in the Red’s victory over the Lions due to the offense’s inability to make much of a mark beyond the opening drive’s field goal. Fraser launched eight punts on the day for a total of 330 yards, averaging 41.2 yard per kick, a long of 49 yards with one kick pinned inside the five-yard line.

For Archer, having a strong punter such as Fraser alters decision-making process when considering what the defense can handle in terms of the opposition’s starting position on a drive. This value from a punter is unquantifiable, but undeniably carries a lot of weight for a head coach.

“Because you know what he’s capable of, 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. He’s a great weapon.”

But Fraser has not been a reason for concern for the Red this season. The instability from the kicking game, seemingly acknowledged by senior safety Rush Imhotep when the unit’s ups and downs were mentioned during the post-game conference, has put the Red offensive unit in precocious situations on fourth down when driving down the field towards the end zone.

Coming into the season, Archer launched a competition between Mays and Pierik that ended with the freshman kicker coming out for field goals in the team’s season opener. By week three, a series of blocked extra points and missed field goal chances led to Archer turning to Pierik, who after his appointment, only hit two of six field goals.

This lack of output eventually lead Archer to turn back to Mays. And while the unit certainly encapsulated it’s season struggles with the game-winning field goal in the first quarter and blocked chance later in the game, for one day, the Cornell place-kicking unit played a major role in the team coming out of Saturday victorious.

“We make them compete in practice. I decide who I feel best with before the games. But you have to work through it, kick the football and get points,” Archer said. “We kicked one today for three points and let the defense do the work, and go Big Red, sing Cornell victorious, strike up the band. You can’t lose confidence because it’s part of the game you need and you just got to work through and keep getting better at that.”