Dalton Banks doesn’t like to live in the past.
“You have to bury those and [always] think forward,” he said Tuesday about Cornell football’s current two-game winning streak.
But sometimes, even as he keeps his focus squarely on the 2018 Ivy title, he can’t help but cut himself a break. Some moments in the past are too good to not reminisce upon. No highlight reel is more prominent for Banks than that of two years ago — when he led the Red to a shocking, come-from-behind win over then-No. 25 Colgate as just a sophomore.
“I don’t do it too much, but here and there,” Banks said with a beaming grin when asked if he watches highlights of his 454-yard, five-touchdown performance against the Raiders in 2016. “It’s fun to watch plays with those guys from back then because most of them aren’t around these days. It’s always fun seeing them out there.”
For the first time since Banks and the Red rallied from a 28-5 deficit for a 39-38 victory over the Raiders, Cornell returns to Hamilton, New York this Saturday for the 100th meeting between the two upstate rivals. For many on the roster, it will be a trip 60 miles up Route 13 full of nostalgia and fond memories. For all, it will be a chance for the impetus of two straight wins to continue with a national powerhouse on the docket.
“I love going up there,” said head coach David Archer ’05.
“Definitely want to win the 100th matchup,” added junior safety Jelani Taylor, who recorded some of his first career tackles as a freshman in the 2016 game at Colgate. “There’s a lot of energy, everybody’s geeked up going into it. … We’re just trying to keep the momentum. One game at a time.”
Cornell owns a 49-47-3 record in the all-time series against the Raiders, but history does not support contemporary. Colgate, now ranked No. 17 in the nation, has won 31 of the last 39 meetings, including a 21-7 stifling of the Red at Schoellkopf last season.
But Saturday presents Cornell with its second consecutive opportunity to knock off a ranked Colgate on the road.
“We just know that it can be done,” Taylor said. “That’s vivid in everybody’s mind here.”
The Raiders gave Cornell a good, long look at their vicious defense as Banks was sacked on nine separate occasions in last year’s loss. That defense has only improved.
To say the current Colgate defense is smothering would be an understatement. Across the FCS, the Raiders rank No. 3 in total defense (248.2 yards per game), No. 6 in rushing defense (77.6 yards per game) and No. 7 in pass efficiency defense (98.02). The Raiders also love to steal the ball, tallying five interceptions on the year and forcing 14 fumbles, recovering nine.
Colgate has given up just 4.6 points per game on the year, good enough for No. 1 in the country and almost twice as good as Princeton, the next team in line. The Raiders have conceded just six points total in its last four games and 23 on the year.
“That would be good if that was [just] your points per game,” Archer said.
But luckily for Cornell, the team believes its offensive synergy is coming along at the right moment. Archer said that the Banks he saw down the stretch in the win over Harvard — 4-for-4 with 66 yards on two touchdown drives — hearkened back images of Banks in the 2016 win over the Raiders.
“He’s having fun,” Archer said after the Harvard game. “He’s enjoying his teammates, not feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders or something. He’s just playing ball.”
“He’s matured 20-fold from that game,” Archer added on Tuesday. “He can still sling it around like he did two years ago, but as a complete quarterback, I’m so proud of the way he’s improved and how he’s played this year.”
And on the defensive side of the ball, Cornell will be tasked with stopping the top offense in the Patriot League. The Raider offense rushes more than twice the amount of times it throws (224 rushes vs. 104 passes on the season), with James Holland and his six touchdowns — five rushing, one receiving — carrying the majority of the load on the ground.
But the Raiders remain efficient in the air, too. Quarterback Grant Breneman’s favorite target is Owen Rockett, who leads the Patriot League with 67.8 yards per game, thanks in part to his 21.2 yards per catch.
With all that in mind, the Red defense has its work cut out for it.
“Everybody knows they have a tough defense, but we also feel that we have a great defense,” Taylor said. “It’s going to be a tough battle … [but we can] hopefully force some turnovers and help our offense out.”
One hundred years of upstate headbutting will take center stage on Saturday, and it’s personal for Archer. His sister was a cheerleader at Colgate before getting her graduate degree at Cornell. The Upstate New York native Archer family would often go to games in Hamilton to see their daughter perform, and the one road trip the family went on was to Cornell-Colgate at Schoellkopf.
“We try to keep it to a minimum at Cornell-Colgate week,” Archer said of the banter with his sister with a chuckle. “[But] there’s no doubt who she’s rooting for. There’s no question she’s Big Red all the way here.”