Cornell football’s seniors were handed a loss in their final game at Schoellkopf, a 35-24 defeat at the hands of Dartmouth. Not exactly a new revelation.
It was just one loss of many for a team that hasn’t had a winning season since 2005. But they fought hard, the same way they have for the last four years of losses.
Senior quarterback Dalton Banks wouldn’t let a mid-week pec strain keep him from his final game at Schoellkopf. Cornerback D.J. Woullard caught a momentum-changing interception. Kicker Zach Mays sunk a career-long field goal. Defensive end Cyrus Nolan played in a cast after getting a screw in his hand on Monday. Wide receiver Lars Pedersen made a fantastic 31-yard catch and three-yard touchdown reception on his final home drive.
“I saw them [all] making plays,” head coach David Archer ‘05 said of his seniors. “Zach with the field goal, Lars making the catch, Dalton running around, D.J. with the pick. I just saw those guys puking their guts out there. … These guys are resilient, and they’re going to be super successful.”
The senior effort might be best embodied by Nolan, who started the game despite having undergone surgery to repair a fractured hand on Monday. Nolan, who plans to return for a fifth year next season after sitting out his sophomore year to injury, suited up and gave it his all with a fresh screw in his hand for a team with no shot at the Ivy League title, recording two tackles.
“I got surgery Monday. I’m going to play Saturday,” Nolan said on Tuesday. “That shows how bad we as a team want it.”
At a point in the game where it looked like the Green might run away with it, Woullard came up with a game-changing interception in the end zone, halting the Dartmouth charge into Red territory and bringing hope back to the Cornell sideline.
“I finished the play and that’s all I wanted — to be a big part of the game and have an impact for all my seniors,” Woullard said. “I’m glad I came through with that because it set us up to be in the game.”
Woullard’s interception led to a career-long 43-yard field goal from Mays. The impact of the offensive line’s five seniors could be felt on the Red drive, as they provided ample push on a fourth and short. Later in the game, the line picked up a blitz on a touchdown from junior running back Harold Cole.
Banks shined, passing accurately throughout the game. He led a long march downfield to end the first half, capped off by a 21-yard pass to junior running back Harold Coles. Banks also ran the ball well, picking up some key chunk yardage and first downs.
Down 18 points with five minutes left, Banks and Pedersen made some memories. Pedersen, running vertically with his man on him tight, made a stunning one-handed catch down the sideline and followed it up with a touchdown reception a few plays later.
“It doesn’t matter to Dalton and me what the score is,” said Pedersen, who added he came to the field alone this morning to soak in what would be his final game. “We’re gonna go out run the plays that are called and play our game. … It was a perfect ball.”
“Lars is one of my best friends and it’s a great feeling that we could make some plays like that on our last drive ever here at Schoellkopf,” Banks said.
This year’s senior class is the last group of players to have suffered through one of Cornell’s 1-9 seasons. They feel that the culture around Cornell football has changed for the better.
“It’s been a grind,” Woullard said. “Guys care a lot more about the team and guys care about each other a lot more now. … I know for a fact we’re leaving this [program] in a better place.”
“For our seniors, I’ll always remember their last game as them being them,” Archer said. “No matter how tough the circumstances got, they never stopped.”