Up against Colgate’s up-tempo offense and penetrating defense, Cornell football limped to a 21-7 defeat at the hands of the Raiders, marking the Red’s third straight loss to begin the 2017 season.
Unlike last year’s shocking 23-point comeback victory over the then-No. 23 Raiders, the Red failed to escape out of its first half deficit. With a porous offensive line that gave up nine sacks and an aerial attack that struggled to find its rhythm all game, Cornell falls to 0-3 on the season, a far cry from its fiery 3-0 start last year.
Cornell stayed with Colgate in the first quarter, holding the Raiders scoreless in the first 15 minutes of action. But the Red’s offense, gifted with five drives with short field position in the first half, failed to really threaten Colgate; Cornell ventured into the red zone just once in the first two quarters, never advancing past the 19-yard line.
Thanks to two sloppy Raider punts and a Colgate turnover on downs, all of Cornell’s first three offensive drives started north of the Red’s 40-yard line. But despite the short field position, Cornell squandered its opportunities, failing to come away with points in any of those first drives.
“It only takes one broken assignment to let the play break down,” said senior running back and captain Jack Gellatly. “Frankly, all 11 across [on offense], we need to do a better job. We need to help our defense out and finish those drives and punch those points in.”
Gellatly, who finished with 41 yards on 12 carries, noted that, while the offense has orchestrated strong drives early in the game, those drives tend to stall out and fail to end up in points, putting pressure on the defense to keep the opponent scoreless through the rest of the game.
“Certainly it was a focus and will continue to be a focus,” head coach David Archer ‘05 said of the team’s early offensive woes. “Because without it, it will be tough to win football games if you don’t finish in the red zone, especially when you get the short field.”
Colgate’s defense was particularly dominant in putting pressure on junior quarterback Dalton Banks. Aside from the nine sacks, the defense forced Banks to throw quickly and knocked him down on the plays in which he was able to get the ball off. Despite the big hits and Banks’ four interceptions — his third straight game with multiple picks — Gellatly stands by his quarterback.
“Dalton Banks is a fighter,” Gellatly said. “That guy will take hits all day long. And he’ll stand up and he’ll put his body on the line for the team. … He’s going to get into the film and be critical and honest with himself and then he is going to help lead this offense keep going in the right direction.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Colgate sped up the game in the second quarter and forced Cornell to make substitutions on the fly, a task that proved too difficult. Cornell had no answer for Colgate’s uptempo attack, and the Raiders scored twice on back-to-back drives in the second quarter to turn a tie game into a 14-point lead in just nine minutes of game time.
“[The up-tempo offense] is something that they had shown at times but weren’t majoring in it so I think it was a good adjustment by them,” Archer said. “There was the element of surprise there, and it took us a little to settle down, but ultimately we were able to stay in the game.”
After the pair of second quarter touchdowns, Cornell’s defense kept pace with the uptempo attack, holding the Raiders’ offense scoreless in the third quarter. Despite the loss, Colgate’s 270 yards of offense was the fewest accumulated by a Cornell opponent since the Red beat Bucknell in 2009.
“I thought [the defense] played good enough to win,” Archer said. “I thought they gave us a chance in the second half by getting good stops. Really happy with the way they responded after halftime, we made that a point of emphasis after last week.”
In the third quarter, Cornell’s offense began to click. Gellatly started to get into rhythm, helping Cornell plow into the red zone. His downhill running style, opting to run through Raiders as opposed to around them, was instrumental on Cornell’s first scoring drive of the day. That drive, a nine-play, 55-yard march down the field, culminated with a one-yard touchdown run from Banks, set up by Banks’ pass to senior tight-end Hayes Nolte.
Colgate responded immediately, however, capitalizing on a pair of kickoff penalties that gave the Raiders the ball at midfield to start the drive. Colgate drove down the field and extended the lead back to 14 after quarterback Grant Breneman’s seven-yard strike to Malik Twyman.
Last year, Cornell roared back from a 23-point deficit to stun Colgate at home. This season, the Raiders made sure that would not happen again. After Cornell scored a touchdown, eyeing its second straight upset, Colgate maintained its grip on the game, burning down minutes on the clock; in the fourth quarter, the Raiders held the ball for over 10 minutes of game time.
“I think last year we made stops when we needed to,” said junior linebacker Reis Seggebruch. “We made a few stops in the second half this year but not the ones that counted. We needed to have a zero-point second half and we didn’t do it.”
This year’s 0-3 record differs markedly from 2016’s undefeated start through three games. Because the team knows it has the capability to win this year, these losses have been especially frustrating, according to Archer.
“[There’s] a lot of frustration because they know they’re good,” Archer said. “They know they can win, they know they can beat the teams we just played, all three of them. They know they can beat the teams were about to play, so it’s a matter of putting that together and making sure that that’s the mindset to be able to get the solutions we need.”