This post has been updated.
After two weeks in which marked improvement failed to show up in the win column, Cornell football rolled over Sacred Heart, 43-24, on Saturday behind touchdowns from six different players to pick up its first win of 2018.
The Pioneers, who entered the contest 3-0 on the season, had no answer for the Red early in the game. Cornell scored 36 points in the first half — most from a Cornell team in a half this millennium — en route to the blowout victory.
“It feels like we’re finally getting people to notice us,” said junior running back Harold Coles. “The defense was playing amazing, offense played really well too and when we put it together I think we’re a really hard team to stop.”
After a 45-yard field goal from junior Nickolas Null, the Cornell defense’s first takeaway of the season — and first of three in the game — was a pick-six that gave the Red a quick 10-0 lead, one it never came close to relinquishing.
Junior cornerback David Jones returned an interception 48 yards for a touchdown — Cornell’s first pick-six since 2011 — on Sacred Heart’s first drive, leading to the Red’s “Turnover Time” clock. Pioneer quarterback Kevin Duke, under pressure on a third down, lofted a pass toward the sideline, where Jones jumped the route and quickly found a path to the endzone.
“[Jones is] such a spark,” said head coach David Archer ’05. “It was like, ‘I’ll go score myself, I’ll go set up another score.’ And then just guys rallied around him. But somebody has got to be the guy to start it, and he did it. He’s such a paymaker on special teams and on defense, and that just set the tone.”
After the Cornell defense forced a quick three-and-out, it was Jones once again sparking a touchdown, this time on special teams.
“The past couple of weeks I’d been fair catching a bunch of balls, but this week I had the mindset that I was going to trust the blocking and trust my teammates and try to put a good return on it and put our offense in a good position and that’s what we did,” Jones said of his 46-yard punt return, which set up the Red’s offense at the Sacred Heart 23-yard line.
The return set up a 7-yard read-option rushing score on third down by senior quarterback Dalton Banks, who went 7-for-9 passing for 90 yards and two total touchdowns in the game.
“It was a read-option play and I got the read to pull it and I kept it, and I knew I had a one-on-one matchup with a guy going into the end zone and I was like ‘this guy’s not going to stop me, I’m going to get in,’” Banks said.
The Red was 6-for-7 on third downs in the first half, and amassed 424 total yards in the game without senior running back Chris Walker, junior wide receiver Davy Lizana and junior tight end John Fitzgerald, who were all out with injuries.
Cornell rushed for 263 yards on the day compared to Sacred Heart’s 153. Four players had at least seven carries for the Red while Pioneer running back Jordan Meachum, who entered the contest averaging 128.7 rushing yards per game, ran for just 45 yards on 15 attempts.
“We couldn’t have scripted it better from that standpoint,” Archer said of the running game. “We thought we were in control. By the end of the first quarter, we [didn’t] know if [Sacred Heart would] ever be able to get back in it on the line of scrimmage.”
“Today’s how I pictured Cornell football for a long time,” Archer added. “Being able to just show up, run the football and we’re going to wear you out and we’re going to be explosive.”
Leading 16-3 early in the second quarter, Banks found sophomore wide receiver Eric Gallman for a 28-yard gain on third down to move into the red zone. A few plays later, the quarterback found senior tight end Oscar Boochever for another third-down touchdown. The acrobatic 12-yard reception was Boochever’s first career score and moved Banks into a tie for fourth all-time in Cornell history for touchdown passes.
“I was so proud [of] how Dalton played,” Archer said. “He played like a quarterback. He scrambled when things weren’t there, and he kept his poise and really managed the game. And when we made downfield shots he put it on them.”
After another quick Sacred Heart punt, Coles sought to pick up where he left off after two long touchdowns in last week’s loss to Yale. The junior burst through the line of scrimmage for an 85-yard touchdown on the first play of the Red’s drive.
“I literally had to do nothing for that touchdown,” Coles said with a chuckle. “The line made a perfect hole and all I [had] to do is run as fast as I can.”
A Sacred Heart touchdown pulled the Pioneers within 19 points, 29-10, but Cornell was able to tack on yet another touchdown before halftime. A pair of third down conversions, including a 30-yard grab by junior tight end Tommy McIntyre, set up sophomore running back S.K. Howard for his first career touchdown and gave the Red a 36-10 halftime lead.
Banks’ throws of 28 and 30 yards to Gallman and McIntyre were the quarterback’s longest two downfield completions of the season.
“We were able to run the ball well and when you do that it opens up the pass game really [nicely] and so we had a few big plays out there that we were able to make,” Banks said.
Jones grabbed his second interception of the game in the endzone as the Pioneers threatened to score late in the half, and the Red picked up right where it left off to start the third quarter. After a quick Pioneer punt, junior quarterback Mike Catanese found senior running back J.D. PicKell with a short pass on the drive’s second play, and PicKell did the rest for a 43-yard touchdown.
Senior safety D.J. Woullard forced a fumble and junior linebacker Malik Leary recovered early in the fourth quarter for the Red’s third takeaway of the game.
The Pioneers added touchdowns late in the third and fourth quarters to shrink its deficit to 19, but it was too little too late to prevent Cornell from earning its first win of the season.
Archer said the win will help his team enter a tough stretch of games with confidence. The Red hosts Harvard next weekend.
“It feels like a statement to our own guys for this year, ‘OK, let’s go. Now we have got it rolling, now it’s off the ground, don’t let it stop,’” Archer said.