HAMILTON, N.Y. — Sophomore quarterback Dalton Banks could not afford to make a mistake. In a game where the gunslinger wasn’t at his sharpest, ending the first half completing just 11 of 24 passes, he could ill afford an error with the Cornell football team down 38-33 to the No. 25 Colgate Raiders and just 90 seconds left on the clock.
This is Banks’ first year starting for the Red, but he exudes the confidence of an upperclassman. He’s poised and confident, but still makes mistakes, as is expected of a first-time starter. And while his gravitas on the field is certainly impressive, it was Banks’ ability to push out the mistakes, the two interceptions, an inconsistent first half, that shined at Andy Kerr Stadium on Saturday.
“We just knew our plays that we had could beat whatever coverage they were running,” Banks said. “We had plays that can always win.”
The first pass of the drive fell incomplete, intended for senior wideout Marshall Deutz. But Banks immediately recovered, hitting Deutz just seconds later for a nine-yard completion, followed by another 13-yard toss to Deutz that brought Cornell to the Colgate side of the field.
Banks scrambled for seven yards on the next play, exhibiting a shiftiness that has brought a new element to the Cornell offense absent in recent seasons. And after a nine-yard pass to junior wide receiver James Hubbard put the Red 28 yards away from the end zone, and the lead, the team needed to make a decision.
“I’m having to yell at them and tell the line their assignments. The receivers are catching and we have to stay calm, but also you’re going fast too,” Banks said. “You’re going back and forth. We were just like, ‘Hey guys, let’s do this. Let’s keep going.’ Everyone knows they have to execute their jobs.”
That was the moment when head coach David Archer ‘05 decided to take a shot. He called for his wideouts to run verticals and let Banks make the decision. After the ball was snapped, Banks recognized Colgate’s blitz and rolled over, where he saw Shaw had gotten the release off the line of scrimmage and beaten his man.
“Let’s give him a chance,” Banks thought. “I’m going to throw it out there.”
As Shaw turned, he saw the ball up in the air and dove towards the back of the end zone.
“I blacked out,” Shaw said.
With the ball cradled in his arms, Shaw looked up at the referee.
“I think I saw a foot in,” Shaw heard the referee say. A few seconds later after the refs conferred, both arms went up, indicating the Red had taken the lead and put the team in position for its first victory over a ranked opponent since 2006 against Princeton.
“I just wigged out,” Shaw said.
The celebration marked the completion of what once seemed improbable, but is now becoming the inevitable with this Cornell football team, the upstart upsetters. After two years of instability at the quarterback position, following the graduation of Jeff Mathews ’13, the Red appears to have found its next star under center, a 6-foot-3 sophomore from San Antonio.
“He’s definitely lived up to the hype and exceeded expectations,” Shaw said. “[The victory] speaks volumes to what kind of player he is and what kind of player he is going to be for this program.”
Banks finished the day with 454 passing yards, the eighth-most in Cornell history and the highest mark since Mathews’ last game as a member of the Red in 2013. It wasn’t his sharpest day out on the field, but Banks’ ability to bury his previous mistakes and lead the team on a game-winning drive has separated him from the pack. Having someone like Banks under center only helps confidence permeate up and down the roster.
“He’s a stud,” Hubbard said. “We told him he’s our guy and we’re going to rally behind him no matter what.”
Banks needed to be perfect, with less than two minutes left in the game and his team down by less than a touchdown. It’s a situation the sophomore quarterback will not only continue to face this season, but throughout the remainder of his time on the slope. But given how Banks handled the high-pressure situation against Colgate, it seems as if this team will be in good hands moving forward.
“It’s one of those things where you take a deep breath and have to stay calm and confident,” Banks said. “You have to have confidence in your guys. I couldn’t let the nerves get to me and everyone out there, we knew that we couldn’t let the hype get to us. We had to play smart and execute and play with confidence.”