NEWARK, Del. — A fumble on the first play of the season cast a dark cloud over Cornell football’s opening game, and the Red, showing its rust, was unable to recover its composure as Cornell was scorched by Delaware, 41-14, on Saturday.
On the first play of the first drive of the first game of the season, running back Chris Walker lost the ball and Delaware’s Bilal Nichols scooped it up and, three plays later, the Blue Hens punched it in for the touchdown, giving Delaware a 7-0 lead after just 53 seconds of game time.
“It certainly isn’t the way you want to start,” head coach David Archer ’05 said.
The opening play proved to be a harbinger of a mistake-riddled game for the Red. Four more turnovers in the first half buried Cornell in a 27-0 hole at halftime.
“We just gave it away,” Archer said. “It’s a great lesson to learn that in a non-league game, we have got to take care of the football to play to our potential.”
But despite the loss, Archer said he was feeling more optimistic than he was after last season’s opening game, a 24-16 win over Bucknell.
“What this Delaware game shows you is all of your flaws,” Archer said. “Maybe we’re not where we thought we were.”
Some of the most egregious flaws were evident on the offensive side of the ball. Junior quarterback Dalton Banks, who had three interceptions in the game, emphasized that the offense’s repeated mistakes helped the Blue Hens run away with victory.
“We are so much better than that,” Banks said. “We’re just going to bury [this game], put it behind us and move on. That was a horrible disaster of a game. … We literally just gave them the ball, gave them points.”
Beyond the interceptions, Banks struggled to ignite the offense in the first half, hitting 13 of 21 passes for just 86 yards. Although he found his rhythm in the second half — completing 71 percent of his throws for 161 yards — a win was largely out of reach at that point.
After the initial fumble, the offense appeared to settle down. Debuting its new uptempo offense, Cornell marched to Delaware’s 37-yard line, determined to even the game at seven and quell the team’s early nerves. But a penalty and a sack pushed the offense back to a third and 31, which the squad failed to convert.
Overall, the new fast-paced style that Archer introduced this season showed it needs some fine tuning before it will be effective against opponents.
“I still think [up-tempo] is the way to go,” Archer said. “It’s just got to get better.”
The Red again threatened on its next drive, powering to the Blue Hens’ 38-yard line. But a trick play backfired and Walker’s pass sailed high over senior wide receiver James Hubbard and into the hands of Nasir Adderley who returned the ball 55 yards upfield. Delaware capitalized off the short field position and booted in a 37-yard field goal to extend the lead to 10.
Cornell coughed up the ball three more times in the first half, and each time the Blue Hens took advantage, putting points on the board after each turnover.
The Red ended the Blue Hens’ scoring run midway through the third quarter. Banks fired downfield to wide receiver Eric Gallman for the freshman’s first career touchdown catch. After the graduation of several key receivers, the position showed its inexperience, dropping several of Banks’ hard-thrown balls.
“It’s first game jitters,” Banks said. “We’ll clean it up, I’m not worried about the new guys.”
Gallman ended with 36 yards off of three catches in his first collegiate appearance. Also making a Cornell debut was fellow receiver Davy Lizana, a sophomore who grabbed three balls for 23 yards.
On the other side of the ball, Cornell also got a boost from some of its newer players. Sophomore Jordan Landsman saw his first action at the college-level and made the most of it. The defensive lineman racked up six tackles including a pair of sacks.
Landsman was a key member of the defensive line that helped suffocate Delaware’s rushing attack early on. In the first 15 minutes of play, the Blue Hens had nine yards on the ground thanks to Cornell’s defensive line’s ability to bully its way past Delaware’s offensive line.
“That first half we stoned the run,” said senior linebacker Kurt Frimel. “They run the ball, that’s their team, that’s what they do. We were able to stop them which is a big-time plus.”
Cornell will look to secure its first win of the season next week, when the squad heads back out on the road to battle Ivy League foe Yale in New Haven, Connecticut.