Closing out its season on a high note, Cornell sprint football easily dispatched Post, 38-21, Friday night at Schoellkopf Field.
While the matchup was long expected to be in the Red’s favor — Post’s anemic 0-6 record placed it at the bottom of the CSFL — it nevertheless marked a welcome reprieve from Cornell’s last two games, where it was pummelled by Navy, 49-14, and then Army, 55-0.
The Red’s decisive victory against the Eagles brought Cornell’s final tally to 4-3, a notable improvement on last year’s mediocre 2-5 performance.
“Every season we’re hoping to win the championship, but we’re always looking for improvement, and we definitely saw that this season,” said junior center Max Beller.
At the beginning of the year, this improvement was anything but guaranteed. The appointment of associate head coach Bob Gneo, along with the departure of 14 productive seniors, created a climate of uncertainty that the Red had to initially overcome.
However, as the season progressed, it became clear that Cornell’s comparative youth and fresh management would instead serve to the team’s advantage.
“We had a lot of new guys coming up, which created a bit of uncertainty,” Beller said. “But they knew they were needed to perform, and definitely stepped up to the plate.”
Players attributed this marked determination on the gridiron to changes in culture — due in part to Gneo’s new stewardship.
“This year was defined by a sense of ‘newness,’” Beller said. “A new style of play, a new team attitude and a new team culture.”
And more specifically, a large part of this “new” culture has come in the form of greater teamwork and cooperation, Gneo said.
“Effort and a sense of togetherness have been defining traits of this team,” he added.
In fact, those characteristics may have proved critical in allowing Cornell to push through the crippling slew of injuries that plagued much of its season.
While sidelined players are an expected side effect of any sport, the Red consistently experienced what Gneo termed, “a revolving door of injuries.” Key players, such as sophomore defensive back Marcus Weeks and junior defensive lineman Conrad McCarthy, spent large portions of the year relegated to the bench.
Still, a veritable team-wide effort turned potentially game-costing absences into manageable, if unwelcome, nuisances.
“Everybody contributed,” said senior wide-receiver Karriem Royster. “We had offensive guys switching to defense … one player, [junior Brooks Panhans,] even put time in at quarterback, wide receiver and tight end.”
In addition to a highly versatile roster, central to Cornell’s campaign — the best in several years — was and will be junior quarterback Connor Ostrander. Over the year, he compiled an impressive bevy of statistics, including 563 passing yards and 106 on the ground.
“He has been the bread and butter of our offense,” Gneo said, highlighting Ostrander’s outsized role in leading the Red to a winning season.
Buttressing Ostrander, this year has also seen several freshmen get significant playing time, including offensive linemen Raphael Cherchio, Sam Grossman and Danyeh Gutema.
Gneo said these players — along with various others — will play an increasingly important role next year, leading to the sense that this season’s narrowly winning record will eventually grow into something more.
“We had a great season,” Beller said, “and I’m looking forward to seeing — and expect — the team to continue to grow.”