In front of the biggest crowd that Schoellkopf Field will see all season, the Cornell football team had a chance to do something special on Saturday — to knock off the defending Ivy League champs with 11,400 pairs of eyes looking on.
The Red trailed by just three points after an eventful first half and hung around until the end, needing a big defensive stop before handing the ball over to its two-minute offense to try and send the fans home happy.
But it didn’t get that stop. And the fans didn’t go home happy.
A costly — and perhaps controversial — roughing the passer penalty extended Yale’s penultimate drive which resulted in a touchdown to seal the deal. The final score was 30-24 as the Red slipped to 0-2 on the season.
A loss is a loss, but Cornell continues to feel that it is playing a much better brand of football than in previous years.
“I feel like we know every single game now that we can play with people. We have a different culture, we have a different team. Everybody has a chip on their shoulder, and we’re ready to show people we can play,” said junior running back Harold Coles, who was the team’s best player Saturday with 130 yards of offense and two scores. “Every team in the league is starting to notice.”
“We’re better this year, but we didn’t get it done in the end of the day,” added senior defensive lineman Cyrus Nolan.
They’re right: this team is better than last year’s team, and that team was arguably better than the year before. But the 2018 edition of Cornell football is still winless, and moral victories only go so far.
Through the first two games of last season, Cornell had been beaten badly by both Delaware and Yale. This season, it has been beaten by Delaware and Yale — but not as badly. The offense remains one dimensional, but some big plays Saturday should provide fans with a certain degree of hope going forward. Coles is coming into his own in the backfield, and if senior quarterback Dalton Banks can find a way to maintain his rhythm despite sharing time with run-first junior quarterback Mike Catanese, this offense could be pretty good. The defense was mediocre against Yale but could start to come into its own if it can just stay disciplined.
But let’s put all of that aside for a moment. As Sun sports columnist Jack Kantor pointed out several weeks ago, Cornell football has not had a winning season since 2005. The team is picked at or near the bottom of the Ivy League in the preseason poll every year and ends up finishing there quite often, too. They are just 6-16 in the league over the last three seasons.
How long much longer will football fans here on East Hill have to wait to see a winning product?
“I’m taking the growth approach, but it’s disappointing when you know you can win,” said head coach David Archer ’05. “We’re a better football team than we were last year.”
As the Homecoming crowd emptied out of the stadium early Saturday evening and the Yale sideline boastfully waved goodbye, the fans had no reason to be embarrassed — the Red gave it their best shot and went toe-to-toe with one of the league’s best.
“If we just executed a few more plays then we’re there, and we’re not talking about a loss right now,” Coles said.
But after so many years of losing, just competing cannot be good enough anymore. This team has eight games left and six more Ivy foes to match up with. So now is the time to start executing those plays and to stop taking those killer penalties. It’s time to win before this season gets away from them.
Enough with the growth approach, enough with the moral victories.