Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Cornell is 1-0 for the first time since 2016.

September 21, 2019

Dominant Defense Powers Football to Season-Opening Win

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This post has been updated.

On an afternoon where Cornell football’s offense kept failing to put the game away, the Red’s defense stood tall, stymying Marist and leading Cornell to its first opening day win since 2016.

“The defense was so heroic all day,” said head coach David Archer ’05. “They made it so the game was never going to be in doubt.”

Cornell surrendered just 220 total yards — and two (two!) rushing yards — in a 21-7 win over Marist in Poughkeepsie on Saturday, cruising to victory despite a flurry of penalties and missed opportunities.

Twice, Marist was on the doorstep of climbing back into the game. Near the middle of the second quarter, with the score 14-7 in favor of Cornell, the Red kept Marist out of the end zone, stuffing Red Fox quarterback Luke Strnad on a QB sneak at the one-yard line on fourth-and-goal.

In the fourth quarter, the Red Foxes again tried to run it up the middle from the one-yard line on fourth-and-goal. Again, Cornell’s defensive front held strong, bailing out a Cornell offense that didn’t take advantage of several opportunities to put Marist away.

“It’s great complementary football,” Archer said. “One side needed help and the other side came to the rescue. Really good on our defense playing super tough and super stout. There’s not much fanciness going on on the one-yard line. That’s a tough guy time and our guys were tough.”

Senior defensive lineman Nathaniel Weber had five tackles and 1.5 sacks. Senior defensive lineman William Baker was right in the thick of Cornell’s stout defensive front.

“Part of our whole offseason plan was to put our players in the best positions to make plays,” Baker said. “We changed our defense up a little bit and I think that really came to fruition today.”

Marist was 2-for-14 on third down and 0-for-4 on fourth down and averaged 0.1 yards per rushing attempt.

“The first [key to victory] is always stop the run,” Baker said. “It’s really special to see it finally paying off here.”

Senior quarterback Mike Catanese played the bulk of the snaps under center for Cornell, and scored two first-half rushing touchdowns to power his team’s offense. Catanese completed 15-of-20 passes for 130 yards and added 79 yards with his legs.

As expected, senior running back Harold Coles led the way for Cornell, gaining 127 yards and recording a touchdown on 16 carries. Cornell picked up 263 yards on the ground and 156 through the air.

Despite the positive end result, it was an ugly game for Cornell, whose offseason rust reared its head in the form of penalties and miscues. The Red committed 11 penalties totaling 117 yards and turned the ball over three times, two of which were self-induced fumbles.

Cornell’s offense repeatedly squandered chances to let the Red coast to victory. Before halftime, the Red mismanaged the clock and ran out of time deep in Marist territory, losing out on a chance to tack on to its seven-point lead.

At the tail end of the third quarter, junior Richie Kenney — who entered the game at quarterback in relief of Catanese for a couple of series — erased a scoring chance by throwing an interception in the end zone.

“Not worried because we have a chance to correct it. All of it that I saw was correctable,” Archer said. “All those things are things that we can correct. It’s really nice to correct it off a win.”

After cruising to an easy early-season win, Cornell will face one of its toughest tests of the season on the road at Yale next weekend. The Bulldogs were picked to finish first in the Ivy League in the preseason poll, and will have Kurt Rawlings at their disposal after the star quarterback missed much of last season with an injury.

“[Coming off a win gives us] more confidence,” Baker said. “We think we’re gonna be the best defense in this league so we’re just excited for this next challenge.”

—Catanese left the game in the third quarter with cramps — not a more serious injury — allowing Kenney to see some extra snaps. Archer remains committed to playing both quarterbacks. “We thought we could run the quarterback on those guys so we went with Cat a little bit longer,” he said.

—Senior punter/kicker Nickolas Null did not play as he continues to work his way back from an injury. Archer said postgame that Null needed a bit of extra time to heal and is likely to play at Yale next week.

In Null’s place, sophomore Koby Kiefer had two punts downed perfectly inside the five-yard line, but mishit one punt that gave Marist excellent field position (it led to one of Cornell’s goal-line stands). Junior Garrett Patla made all three of his extra-point attempts, but missed wide right on a 45-yard field goal try.

Final team statistics:

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