‘Cornell Victorious’ is a ballad with rich history in Ithaca, but has been conspicuously missing from Cornell football games in recent years. This has changed in two games already this season, as the Red dominated Yale on Homecoming 27-13 to secure its second win in as many games.
Cornell opened the scoring early, when sophomore quarterback Dalton Banks marched the offense down the field, totaling 60 yards in just under three minutes. Sophomore running back J.D. PicKell pounded the ball in for a one-yard rush — the first of his career — giving the Red the early lead.
Even with PicKell’s touchdown, rushing was not the centerpiece for the Red’s offense this weekend, after sophomore running back Chris Walker exploded for over 130 yards against Bucknell. Head coach David Archer ’05 said he knew that he had to use the air attack to get in the end zone.
“They were loading the box, they were always plus one-ing in the box which makes it tough,” he said. “They did the same thing to Colgate. That’s kind of their philosophy. Going into it I thought the passing game was going to be our advantage.”
After the team snagged two picks at Bucknell junior safety Nick Gesualdi got the interception parade off early, breaking tackles and crossing the offense up to return it 30 yards.
When it rains, it pours, and Ithaca showers are occurring rather early this year. Senior safety Justin Solomon also got in on the fun, collecting the Red’s second interception of the day — also in the first quarter — on an errant throw by Yale quarterback Rafe Chapple, but the team was not done there.
With just minutes left on the game clock, senior captain and linebacker Jackson Weber saw two sure picks slip through his fingers in consecutive plays. The very next play, he got his interception that all but sealed the game. His interception, nine solo tackles and four tackles for loss, were all the more impressive considering he played the game with a pulled groin.
“The defense was exceptional,” Archer said. “[Weber] gave the pregame talk this morning. Just unbelievable leadership. I can’t say enough about the play of the kids.”
With a strong defensive showing, the Red held Yale to a lone field goal in the first half. On the Bulldogs’ only scoring drive of the first half, Cornell was quick to answer with a score of its own. In three plays, Banks orchestrated a drive that lasted 57 seconds, capped off by a 43-yard diving catch into the endzone by senior receiver Ben Rogers.
“We had been watching how they react to our plays,” Banks said. “Whenever we run the ball they collapsed on us. We gave a pump fake to a bubble where they had been crashing hard and the throw happened to be wide open. We knew it was going to hit and sure enough it clicked.”
“Sick throw and catch,” Solomon added.
As the first half began to wind down, the men of the team made sure to give themselves one more chance to score before heading into the locker rooms. Banks connected with junior receiver James Hubbard to bring Cornell into the red zone. However, a field goal was all the team could muster, but the three points still gave the team a good feeling going into the locker room with a 24-3 lead.
“It’s great playing a good first half and coming in with a lead,” Weber said. “Last year against Bucknell and Yale we were in that same exact situation where we had a lead and just needed to finish the game. We were really focused on finishing everything we do on the field.”
Even with a solid first half, the team knew that complacency could have been an Achilles heel that prevented the second win of the season.
“Whenever we get a lead like that we try not to look back,” Banks said. “We still have to treat it like we have to score on offense. We can’t let up, we can’t be satisfied, we still have to keep putting points on the board and not let them get a second wind.”
With a new quarterback in — sophomore Tre Moore entered the game on Yale’s last drive in the second quarter — the Bulldogs came out in the second half more synchronized and drove down the field to notch its first touchdown of the game.
“We didn’t make too much of an adjustment immediately, but we realized that we needed to contain him, keep him in the pocket and not let him scramble,” Weber said of Moore. “We figured that out as the second half went on.”
Moore stepped in nicely for the Bulldogs, throwing for 174 yards in just over a half, completing on 64 percent of his throws. He was also impressive in extending plays and keeping the Yale offense on the field.
“We just felt that the game was going fast for [Chapple],” said Yale head coach Tony Reno. “We just felt like we needed to make a change at the position. [Chapple] and [Moore] had been competing really all spring we just felt that it was time to give Tre an opportunity.”
Yale would continue to threaten in the second half. Moore led the team down the field and was knocking on Cornell’s doorstep until a personal foul brought the ball back 15 yards. The Bulldogs would have to settle for a field goal.
The offense had a bit more trouble in the second half, managing to only put a field goal on the board. When compared to Bucknell, Banks seemed to be under pressure much more this game, especially in the second half. Although he was able to extend most plays with his feet, the strategy hampered the offense’s scoring in the second half.
“We still have to clean things up, obviously we still have some room for improvement,” Banks said. “We have to keep practicing our protection stuff. I try to get out and make plays and keep the play alive whenever I can, but I hate to see it die.”
Along with a solid effort on the offensive and defensive side of the ball came a second straight week where the special teams stepped up. Sophomore kicker Zach Mays — reigning Ivy League special teams player of the week — has connected on all three of his field goal attempts and has forced nine touchbacks already this season. For both sides of the ball, this strength is a huge help in winning games, according to Archer.
“Huge weapon,” Archer said of the kicker. “Just to be able to keep putting points on the board when a drive stalls in the red zone is enormous.”
Weber went on to call Mays a “luxury we haven’t had the past few years.”
Aside from his kicking duties, Mays also participated in a trick play when Archer called his number to attempt a fake field goal when up 21-3. The sneak was thwarted by the Yale special teams unit.
“I initially called to kick it and get the points and then I kind of had a little gamble and said, ‘You know what we’re up, let’s see what happens,’” Archer said. “You can’t play with any fear or any second guessing. You just have to go play and they covered it well. Good play by them.”
Knowing that there is still room for improvement, Archer said he is very proud of his squad after matching the win total from the past two seasons in just two games. The enthusiasm and confidence felt by this squad in infectious.
“Beautiful day,” he said. “Just a day to celebrate, a day to celebrate our football program and these kids. These kids are unbelievably resilient. Today was a great win over a good team, but the fun part is it’s not like we’ve played our best, there are some things to improve upon, and work on.”