Despite seeing improvements from last year in its first two games, Cornell football is still searching for its first win of the season. That task will not get any easier when the Red hosts undefeated Sacred Heart in the second of three consecutive home games this Saturday, with kickoff set for 1:30 p.m.
There have only been two prior meetings between Cornell and Sacred Heart, and the Pioneers were victorious in both contests. The last game between the two came in 2016, when Sacred Heart took a 31-24 win in Ithaca, and the first was a 2015 31-6 shellacking in Connecticut.
Cornell last time out:
The Red fell to Yale on Homecoming, 30-24, in a blow-for-blow contest with the reigning Ivy champs. Junior running back Harold Coles caught and ran for a touchdown to go along with 130 yards on the day. Early in the fourth quarter the Red cut the deficit to two, but Yale’s penultimate drive was powered by a crisp offense and untimely Cornell penalties for the eventual game-winning score.
Sacred Heart last time out:
The Pioneers are fresh off their third consecutive win to open the year after beating Wagner, 41-14. Sacred Heart has scored at least 30 points in all three of its games so far this season and never conceded more than two touchdowns.
Scouting the Pioneers:
Sacred Heart touts a vicious double-headed offense that averages over 200 yards per game in both the air (202) and on the ground (232.2). Kevin Duke leads the air attack with seven touchdowns and two interceptions through three games, with a stark majority of his passes going to Andrew O’Neill. Jordan Meachum gets the majority of carries and yardage on the ground with two touchdowns but Duke and Julius Chestnut follow closely with a pair of rushing scores of their own. On the flipside, the Pioneer defense has scored two touchdowns of their own on the year along with four interceptions. Salaam Horne and Mike Wilen lead the way with 23 tackles, while the former has a pick and the latter a forced fumble.
Cornell beats Sacred Heart if:
… it finally plays a complete game. The Red has had decent showings from its defense in the first two weeks, although they wouldn’t mind even better results. The offense, on the other hand, has been anemic. Outside of semi-frequent bursts of brilliance from Coles and flashes of success from junior quarterback Mike Catanese, the Cornell offense has not been able to get much done. Since this game will not count in the Ivy standings, don’t be surprised if Cornell tries to mix it up to get things going on the offensive side of the ball.
“I think it’s just getting everything smoothed out,” said sophomore wide receiver Eric Gallman, who is back this season after missing eight games last season with a foot injury. “It takes all 11 to make something shake on offense. I think as we continue to get the timing down with the quarterback, with the line, with us receivers running our routes, I think everything will take care of itself.”
What they’re saying in Ithaca:
Senior defensive back D.J. Woullard on playing tough teams: “We’re blessed to have a harder schedule than a lot of Ivy League schools. We do play a lot of harder teams especially out of conference. Teams like Harvard, Yale and Princeton blow out the teams they play but they don’t really get good competition so [we’re prepared] when we have big games like last year against Princeton.”
Woullard on stopping Sacred Heart’s receiving core after defensive struggles: “They have a lot of different receivers that have talent, so we really got to stop the pass and that’s one thing we’ve been struggling with in the past few games.”
Head coach David Archer ’05 on how to beat Sacred Heart: “We got to go with the matchups we think are good, and for us we really think we can run the football on anybody. We got to try to establish that and then we got to make sure we can take some shots and get some big plays over the top, but they certainly do have great defensive stats. They create a lot of negative plays defensively [and] they have a great pass rusher.”
What they’re saying in Fairfield:
Head coach Mark Nofri on last week’s win over Wagner: “I like the way we started when we had the big returned the opening kickoff. I’ve coached a lot of teams and for whatever reason, this team has a lot of energy, chemistry, they pull for one another and there’s no animosity or finger-pointing. They’re just a great bunch of kids to be around and they’re fun to coach. When things are clicking on all cylinders, things feel pretty good.”
Nofri on his freshmen: “We’ve thrown a lot of these freshmen into the fire and seeing how they perform. They’re answering the bell and that’s what you want from your freshmen. You like to bring them along slowly, and they’re going to have growing pains, but so far, they’re doing what we’ve asked them to do and hopefully they keep playing hard and doing what the coaches are teaching them.”
Senior defensive back D.J. Woullard, who began the season as a safety, will slot back into his original role from the past two seasons at cornerback. Woullard will split time with junior David Jones and sophomore Phazione McClurge on the edges while senior Jake Watkins will join junior Jelani Taylor as the starting safety.
In two contests so far, neither Cornell nor its opponents have been guilty of a turnover.
“If you had told me that we wouldn’t give it away and we’d be 0-2, I wouldn’t believe you,” Archer said. “So we’ve got to keep that up.”
Fun fact about the Pioneers:
Former MLB player and manager Bobby Valentine is the current Athletic Director at Sacred Heart.