Alex Hernandez | Sun File Photo

Senior quarterback Robert Pannullo enters 2016 alongside 17 other returning players in the starting lineup.

September 14, 2016

Sprint Football Seeks Upset Against Navy in Season Opener

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The 2016 season marks the 10th meeting since Cornell sprint football last defeated Navy. However, the group’s chance to break the losing streak will come this Saturday when the Red takes on the Midshipmen to open the season.

Senior quarterback Robert Pannullo and the team believe they can surprise their opponent this weekend.

“Playing Navy in the first game of the season gives us an advantage because we’ve had extra time to prepare,” Pannullo said. “In the past we’ve played them late in the season and gone into the game banged up, so opening up with them certainly has its advantages.”

Week one also represents an opportunity to find a quality team possibly on their heels and rusty.

“Hopefully by playing [Navy] first we find them a little on the rough end, not having [played] any other games,” said co-head coach Bart Guccia.

Still, Guccia acknowledges that the contest will be one of Cornell’s biggest tests this season.

“[Navy is] probably one of the two best teams in the league and playing them first [is not much different] than playing them last,” he said.

Cornell will face Navy this year with much more experience than the last. The 2016 squad has retained 18 of 22 returning starters this year, so the team already has established chemistry even before the first game.

“The team is really optimistic going into the season … we have very high expectations,” Pannullo said. “The upperclassmen have a lot of experience that will be extremely important for us to build upon this year.“

The Red must try to use their past experience — and only their past experience — to prepare for Navy.

“We don’t know if they have changed any of their schemes, both offensively and defensively,” Guccia said. “There are no scout tapes on scrimmages they’ve had. We are [planning] based on what we’ve seen in the past few years. We plan on attacking them the way we did last year.”

Navy, too, does not possess current scouting tapes of the 2016 Cornell team. Both teams will have to prepare in other ways.

Despite the lack of study material, Pannullo and his offense are not expecting many surprises from Navy.

“Our biggest strength is that we’ll be able to control the defenses we based on our formations,” Pannullo said. “They’ve been pretty consistent in the defensive looks they’ve shown over the past three years, so we have a good idea what we’re going to see Saturday.”

Guccia added that Army and Navy “don’t go out and trick you with schemes.” “They don’t change what isn’t broken,” he said.

The Red lost to Navy, 35-14, last season. Aside from focusing on Navy, Cornell will have to make sure they don’t set themselves back in order to put up a fight this time around.

“Our biggest [focus] is trying to cut down on mistakes offensively — penalties, mental mistakes and execution,” Guccia said.

Consistency will key for the Red. If the Red begins to falter, it will be tough to comeback against a stout defense such as Navy.

“I think the offense needs to focus on consistency and execution this weekend,” Pannullo said. “We’ve had success offensively against Navy in the past and we’re looking to build upon that success Saturday. Navy always has a strong defense, but we know if we take care of our jobs we can have success against them.”

On the defensive side, Cornell will have to focus on keeping the Midshipmen’s stellar ground attack in check. Last year against the Red, Navy totaled 248 total rushing yards, with an average of 4.5 yards per carry.

“[Navy is] a very good running team,” Guccia said. “Their running back, their quarterback and one of their receivers … ran very well last year. We know that each year they refurbish their offensive line so … they are going to be strong in that aspect.”

The Red had not overcome Navy since 2006. But Cornell may be due for a win this time around.

Cornell will square off against Navy at 1 p.m. Saturday on Schoellkopf.