The path between Cornell football and its first Ivy League title in decades was made clear Wednesday morning. Coming off its winningest season under current head coach David Archer ’05, the Red will begin its campaign on the road against Delaware before a four-game homestand, and will end against reigning co-champion Penn.
Sept. 16: Season Opener at Delaware
The Red will kick off the 2017 season on the road for its first-ever matchup with Delaware. It will be the Blue Hens’ third game of the season, meaning it will be the third under first year head coach Danny Rocco, who was announced head coach in December.
Rocco was hired after two straight losing seasons for the 2003 FCS national champions. He brings with him an almost completely new staff, retaining only one positions coach from former head coach Dave Brock, who managed only one winning season in his four years.
While Rocco comes in as a new face, the team as a whole returns many of its 2016 leaders. The 2016 offense featured a three-headed running attack, with the top two of Wes Hills and Thomas Jefferson returning for their redshirt senior and junior years, respectively. The former led the team with 728 rushing yards, and an average of 104 per game in seven appearances, while the latter followed with six touchdowns and 700 yards.
Under snap is Joe Walker, returning for his redshirt junior year after starting in all but one game in 2016. He was held to 954 yards, and only 95.4 per game to go along with three touchdowns in the air. His 48.4 completion percentage was 10th in the Colonial Athletic Association. And on the defense, the team brings back leading tackler Charles Bell for his senior year.
The Blue Hens’ 2016 season featured several contests against nationally ranked FCS teams, including matchups with Richmond, Stony Brook, Villanova and eventual champion James Madison. Delaware did not win any of its ranked matchups, with its wins coming against Towson, Albany, Lafayette and Delaware St.
Sept. 23: 80th Contest Against Yale
Ivy League play gets underway from New Haven against Yale for the 80th matchup with Yale. In 2016, Cornell utilized a 24 point first half to blow by Yale 27-13 on homecoming. Cornell’s rising junior quarterback Dalton Banks had 306 passing yards in the win, while the defense intercepted the ball three times.
The 2006 Ivy League co-champions saw a down year in 2016 with a 3-7 record after an 8-2 2014 and 6-4 2015. Rising sophomore Kurt Rawlings and rising junior Tre More split the duties at quarterback, as both combined for an equal number of interceptions as touchdowns.
Alan Lamar returns for his sophomore season at tailback after becoming the clear rushing leader with five touchdowns and 557 yards on 131 rushes, good enough for 4.3 per attempt, while classmate and last year’s leading receiver Reed Klubnik returns with three touchdowns and 35.6 yards per game to his name.
Sept. 30: Home Opener vs. Colgate
The most exciting game of the 2016 season by far gets a rematch this season, but coming in the friendly confines of Schoellkopf for the Red’s home opener. Cornell bested then-No. 25 Colgate thanks to a last second touchdown from Banks to graduating receiver Collin Shaw.
The Red faced a 21-point deficit at half, but Banks exploded for 454 passing yards and four touchdowns, while rising junior running back Chris Walker added 110 on the ground to aid in the 39-38 win.
Luckily for the Red, quarterback Jake Melville — who tossed 399 yards and three touchdowns along with 80 yards on the ground in the 2016 matchup — is graduating, as well as John Maddaluna, who caught for 261 yards and all of Melville’s touchdowns in the game. On the defensive side, leading tacklers Kyle Diener and Chris Morgan are also graduating.
That being said, the Raiders return leading running back Keyon Washington and second highest tallying receiver Alex Greenawalt for their senior seasons. But there is no doubt that this Raiders team will come to Ithaca missing some of its centerpieces that have given them 23 wins in the past four years.
Oct. 7: Rivalry Game With Harvard
Last season, Cornell came into Cambridge fresh off the emotional upset over Colgate and riding a three-game winning streak to open the season. Already having more wins than the past two years combined, the Red looked to continue proving itself as a team to be reckoned with when it clashed with the only other remaining undefeated team in the Ivy League in then-No. 22 Harvard.
But the then-three-time defending league champion and the winningest program in Division I FCS since 2001 proved to be too much for Cornell. The first play from scrimmage resulted in a Harvard interception, which the Crimson would capitalize on for a touchdown two plays later. Harvard would never fall behind in the game and defeated the Red handedly 29-13 for Cornell’s first loss of the season. The loss would be the first of a five-game slide for the Red.
Cornell did hold a strong offensive team in Harvard — which averaged over 500 yards of offense coming into the game — to 388 yards. The defensive leader of the game — rising senior Nick Gesauldi, who tallied 11 tackles, a sack and an interception — will be returning to the team and will hope to make another strong effort as the Red look to end the Crimson’s 11-game winning streak in the series.
Harvard, meanwhile, will look to its four returning first-team all-Ivy selections to better its third-place league finish and get back on track to its championship ways.
Oct. 14: Another Matchup With Bucknell
Bucknell comes to Ithaca for the first time since an exciting homecoming matchup in 2015, where the Bison squaked by with a 19-14 win. The following year, Cornell got the best of Bucknell on its own homecoming to open the season with a win. It was Bucknell’s third game of the season, and was a breakout game for several Cornell stars.
Banks got his first start in Lewisburg, completing 17 of 24 passes for 160 yards, and tallying three total touchdowns — one in the air, two on the ground. Meanwhile, Walker kicked his all-Ivy season of with 141 yards on the ground.
However, it was not all sunshine for the Red, as then-junior safety Sean Scullen went down in the opening quarter with an injury that kept him sidelined all of last season.
Rivaling Walker in the 2016 contest, Bucknell’s Joey DeFloria diced up the Red defnese for 154 yards and two touchdowns. He returns for his senior year in 2017, along with quarterback Matt Muh. But to Cornell’s favor, NFL-bound offensive lineman Julién Davenport will not be included in the 2017 edition of the “Battle of the ‘Nells.”
Oct. 21: End of Home Stand Against Brown
Cornell will cap off the four-game home stand when it hosts Brown. Last season, after starting 3-0, Cornell dropped consecutive games against Harvard and Sacred Heart, and looked to snap its losing streak in Providence.
The first half was plagued by rain, and neither team could get anything going offensively in the mud and poor conditions, though Brown headed into halftime with a 7-0 lead. The only touchdown was scored on a 79-yard punt return by Alex Jette. Jette has torched the Red the past couple of years, and finished the game with 196 total yards and three touchdowns to go along with 157 receiving yards the matchup a season before. Luckily, for Cornell, Jette will be graduated before the forthcoming season.
Brown opened the half with another score, but Cornell responded with two touchdowns of its own to tie the game 14-all. After missed go-ahead field goals by both teams within the final four minutes of the game, the game was sent to overtime.
Cornell opened the first overtime with a score, but the game was sent to another when Brown matched the Red touchdown. Brown started the second overtime with the ball and was again able to capitalize, but Cornell could not find an answer. The Red dropped the overtime nail-biter, 28-21, extending the its losing streak against Brown to nine games, losing 13 of the last 14 against the Bears and dropping the team’s record to 3-3 despite the 3-0 start.
Brown will be filling some big shoes after losing all six of its all-Ivy selections from last year. But if there is a team that knows how to rebuild, it’s Brown, who has finished in the top half of the league standings in 16 of the past 19 years during head coach Phil Estes’ tenure.
Oct. 28: 100th Matchup With Princeton
The game against Princeton — defending Ivy League co-champion — will be the first game back on the road after the one-month home stand for Cornell. The game will mark the 100th all-time meeting between the teams, a series which Princeton has dominated 61-36-2.
While last year’s game was an abysmal 56-7 thrashing by Princeton to send Cornell to sub-.500 for the first time all year, the two teams have had a recent memory of playing in close games — eight of the last 13 games have been decided by a touchdown or less, and in the past 27 years, 13 of those games have been decided by a field goal or less.
A difference maker for the Tigers last year was junior John Lovett, who, despite being listed last year as the backup quarterback, was all over the field and accounted for seven total touchdowns — four passing, two rushing and one receiving. Lovett accounted for all five of the Tigers’ first-half touchdowns.
Lovett will look to once again give Cornell nightmares, as the defending Ivy League Player of the Year will be returning for one final season. Princeton will also be welcoming back a key member of its league-leading defense, runner-up Defensive Player of the Year in Kurt Holuba. Head coach Bob Surace was also named the Ivy League Coach of the Year last year.
Nov. 4: Long Trek to Dartmouth
Dartmouth went from best to worst in a matter of one season — they finished alone in last place in the Ivy League with a 1-6 record just one year after sharing a piece of the Ivy League title in 2015. The lone league win for the Green last season? Cornell.
In the 100th meeting between the two teams last year, Cornell got off to a strong start, with its first two possessions leading to field goals. Dartmouth came into the game as the best passing offense in the league, averaging 258 yards per game. The Red limited the Green to 226 yards, but the running game for Dartmouth took over. Dartmouth went for 179 yards on the ground, with rising junior Miles Smith going for 119 of them.
Cornell led for the first three quarters and the start of the fourth period, until a Dartmouth touchdown at the 6:42 mark capped a 14-0 fourth quarter for the Green on its way to a 17-13 victory in Ithaca.
In addition to Smith, Dartmouth will be welcoming back five all-Ivy League selections, including Rookie of the Year wide receiver Hunter Hagdorn.
Nov. 11: Home Finale Against Columbia
The storied Empire State Bowl game returns to Ithaca for the first time since Cornell’s exhilarating 3-0 win in 2015, where there were more quarters than points scored.
But in 2016, the game unfolded completely opposite. Cornell edged the Lions in a shootout, taking a 42-40 win in New York City. Columbia held a narrow lead at halftime, but the Red fought back to take a narrow lead of its own that held until the final whistle.
Banks had 267 throwing yards in the game, but the story was all Walker, who exploded for 178 yards on the ground and three touchdowns. The game also featured an infamous fourth down play call, when, still down by three in the third quarter, rising senior and backup quarterback Jake Jatis found punter Chris Fraser along the sidelines for a 33-yard pickup into the red zone.
The win gave Cornell its fourth consecutive over Columbia, a couple of which were the only wins Cornell mustered in consecutive 1-9 seasons.
But for the Lions, three all-Ivy picks return in the form of sophomore kicker Oren Milstein, senior defensive back Cameron Roane and senior defensive lineman Lord Hyeaman.
Nov. 18: Season Finale at Penn
Cornell will close out the 2017 season the same way it did the 2016 year, and many years before that — against Penn. The two have ended their respective seasons against each other every time since 1998.
Last season, Cornell was unable to halt Penn’s championship coronation, as the Quakers split a two-way tie for the Ivy title with Princeton thanks to a 42-20 win over Cornell at Schoellkopf. Running back Tre Solomon and quarterback Alex Torgerson torched the Red’s defense, combining for 515 yards and five touchdowns.
While Torgerson graduated and has his sights set on professional football, Solomon should be back for his senior year, fresh off a 90.7 yards per game season. Cornell fans will also be unhappy to hear receiver Justin Watson, who set the Penn record for most receptions in a season against Cornell, has one year left. The Ivy League Player of the Year runner-up had over 1110 receiving yards, and averaged 111.5 per game.
Though a major loss of Torgerson may set the Quakers back a bit, the team that has captured five league titles since 2009 will surely give the Red a fit in the final game of the season.