Heartbreakingly eliminated from Ivy League title contention, Cornell football head coach David Archer ’05 leads a team still with plenty to play for as it travels to Philadelphia to take on Penn in both teams’ season finales.
“We’re heartbroken over the results, to be quite honest, but I told the team on Monday, pick any reason you want,” Archer said in regards to motivation for this weekend. “Whether it’s to be 4-3 [for] the first time in 12 years, [to be] only the fifth team in league history to be picked last in the media polls and come back with a winning record, send the seniors out with a win, win the Trustee’s Cup or … count this as the first game of 2018.”
In the final game for the team’s seniors — Archer’s first full recruiting class — there is increased motivation to end on a high note. The group won just two total games in its first two seasons, but has come a long way, competing for an Ivy title this year and now on the verge of attaining a winning league record.
“We were 4-6 the first year I got here,” said fifth-year senior Justin Solomon, who has been part of the program for Archer’s entire tenure. “The next couple years we sort of dipped, and I’m just happy that I have the chance to leave the program better than when I started.”
Standing in the way of the Red (3-6, 3-3 Ivy) becoming just the fifth team picked to finish last in the preseason to achieve a winning Ivy record are the Quakers (5-4, 3-3) — winners of three straight standing at the .500 mark in the Ancient Eight heading into the final weekend.
As it vies for the Trustee’s Cup, Cornell’s defense — which kept the offense in striking distance in recent losses to Dartmouth and Columbia — will need to slow down Penn’s offensive weapons, especially receiver Justin Watson.
The Player of the Year candidate has dominated Ivy defenses, recording 891 yards and 13 touchdowns.
The Red will also need to contain Penn’s rushing attack, led by Karekin Brooks and supplemented by Tre Solomon. The two have combined for nine touchdowns.
“Justin Watson is an all-time great,” Archer said, “but Tre Solomon isn’t somebody to not know where he is and Karekin Brooks has run the ball really well for them.”
“They have several good skill players and we have a plan to take away what they want to do first and if we don’t let one guy beat us we’ll have a great chance,” Solomon added.
Offensively, junior quarterback Dalton Banks and his teammates will aim to reverse a disappointing two-week trend. In 10-0 and 18-8 losses to Dartmouth and Columbia, respectively, the offense has been unproductive, and the running game — a focal point of the offense, especially before losing junior running back Chris Walker to injury — has struggled.
The offensive game plan heading into Penn is, “really just trying to simplify stuff, look for who’s productive out there for us and try to get them the ball every single time, because there’s no tomorrow,” Archer said.
He added that the Red will look to get sophomore running back Harold Coles more involved in the offensive scheme.
Motivation to achieve a 4-3 league record aside, the matchup with Penn serves as the start of working toward a 2018 league title. Archer likened it to a No. 9 hitter in baseball setting the tone for the leadoff man.
“I want to springboard the program as best I can, help those guys on the championship road for next year,” agreed senior running back Jack Gellatly. “For us seniors it’s a way to leave our legacy.”
“I want a ring very bad, but 4-3 is progress, so … they’ll have another chance,” Solomon added. “4-3 gets the … organization one step closer to a ring, though this year might not be our year.”
Gellatly, about to embark on his final game in a Cornell uniform, said he hopes he and his classmates can help the team win one last time before hanging up the cleats.
“Emotions are high, definitely. You try to just focus on the game as much as you can but obviously that’s hard to do,” he said. “It’s hard not to feel emotional, especially coming off senior day [with] that spirit of things coming to an end.”
The Red and Quakers kick off at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Penn’s Franklin Field.