A strong defensive effort by the Red kept the season opener under control.

Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

A strong defensive effort by the Red kept the season opener under control.

September 22, 2019

Football Notebook: Defense Deciding Factor in Opener

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Cornell football earned a season-opening win at Marist on Saturday. In its first game of the season, the Red clearly showed signs of rust as it let a weak Red Fox side hang around for much of the afternoon. Here are nine observations from the victory:

1). Ground-and-Pound:
Many expected Harold Coles to be the centerpiece of the offense heading into the 2019 season, and he indeed carried the rock for much of the afternoon against the Red Fox defense. Against a soft rushing defense, Coles dominated, rumbling his way to the tune of 127 yards on 17 carries. Coles also scored a touchdown, giving Cornell a two-score lead that it never relinquished. There was also a healthy rotation of backs behind Coles. Delonte Harrell, Devon Brewer and Jake Derderian combined to tack on an additional 47 rushing yards.

2). Stuck in the Mud:
While the Red ran with impunity, Marist never turned its wheels. The Red Foxes did not enter this contest with a vaunted rushing attack, but against the Red, they were simply putrid. On 20 attempts between five players, the Red Foxes only gained two yards on the ground, good for a woeful average of 0.1 yards per tote. All in all, it was a dominant showing by Cornell’s defense paired by an atrocious effort on the part of Marist that resulted in a whopping two yards on the ground.

3). Trench Warfare:
Despite losing a number of big contributors from last season — including captain Reis Seggebruch ’19 — Cornell’s front seven dominated against Marist. As mentioned before, the Red only allowed the Red Foxes to rush for two yards, but more importantly, it generated strong pressure against redshirt sophomore quarterback Luke Strnad. Strnad and redshirt sophomore Austin Day had rotated throughout the first two games, but it was clear that Day was the superior option. Unfortunately for the Red Foxes, Day was unavailable against Cornell due to injury, prompting Strnad to stay under center for the entire contest. Under duress for much of the afternoon, Strnad only completed 42 percent of his passes for 218 yards along with one interception. He was sacked twice in the process.BYT-FB-Harvard-25
4). Goal-Line Stands:
The defense’s strong performance was best exemplified in its two successful goal-line stands. The first crucial stop came with the Red sporting a 14-7 lead. In the middle of the second quarter, Marist began knocking on the door and moved the ball down to the goal line. On fourth down, Strnad attempted a quarterback sneak from the one-yard line, only for the Red to stuff him and force a turnover on downs. Then, in the fourth quarter, Cornell possessed a two-touchdown lead, but the Red Foxes were still within reach. Marist could have cut the deficit as it used great field position to once again reach the one-yard line. But on fourth down, senior captain Jelani Taylor and senior Justin Bedard stuffed redshirt sophomore Dazhon Miller to once again deny the Red Foxes.

5). QB Rotation:
Head coach David Archer ’05 remarked prior to the game that senior Mike Catanese and junior Richie Kenney would likely split reps under center against Marist. Early on, that was not the case. Catanese handled almost every snap before bowing out due to injury. From there, Kenney took over and closed out the game under center. Catanese performed well, completing 15-of-20 passes for yards. Where Catanese really excelled was on the ground, rushing for 79 yards and Cornell’s first two touchdowns. He did lose a fumble deep in Marist territory near the end of the first half, but all in all, it was a decent starting debut for the senior. On the other hand, Kenney struggled, only completing 3-of-7 passes for 26 yards along with an interception in the endzone. Kenney did show off his legs as he racked up 26 yards, most of which came from an impressive 24-yard run.

6). First-Down Disparity:
By the end of the game, Cornell had amassed a whopping 21 first downs, compared to Marist’s total of eight. The Red moved the ball well throughout the day, whether it was Catanese or Kenney calling the shots. It was also a testament to how poorly Marist was playing. Ultimately, several mistakes — whether it was turnovers or penalties — derailed drives by Cornell and kept Marist in the game until the final minutes.

7). Penalties Galore:
Unfortunately, this contest was marred by penalties from both sides. On the day, Cornell committed 11 different penalties, which cost 117 yards. Several of these penalties came at crucial junctures, including a holding call which wiped out a touchdown run by Jake Derderian late in the third quarter. On the ensuing play, Kenney threw an interception, denying the Red an opportunity to extend its lead. Just as penalties crippled Cornell’s momentum on both sides of the ball, the same occurred for Marist. The Red Foxes were flagged for seven penalties for a total of 79 yards.

8). Special Teams:
Even with senior Nickolas Null absent due to injury, Cornell’s special teams unit played fairly well. On his lone field goal attempt, junior Garrett Patla missed wide right from 45 yards out. He did convert on all three PATs, though. Sophomore Koby Kiefer had an excellent performance. Punting in a wide variety of situations, the sophomore booted six balls for an average of 32.3 yards per punt. He notched a long of 55 yards while pinning the Red Foxes inside the one-yard line on two separate occasions. Kiefer was not perfect on the afternoon, though, as a misfire on one of his punts gave Marist favorable field position.

9). Injuries:
Though the Red escaped Poughkeepsie with a win, it did sustain some injuries along the way. One was Catanese. Catanese initially went down with a leg injury in the third quarter before reentering the game in the fourth. Then, he suffered a shoulder injury after taking a hard fall on the turf. Archer described Catanese’s injuries as cramps, suggesting that he will likely play next week. Meanwhile, sophomore center Jack Burns — a new starter on the offensive line — was shaken up after a play in the fourth quarter and did not return. His status remains to be seen.

Additionally, star special teamer Null was held out of the contest. His status entering the weekend was questionable as he was still recovering from a season-ending injury last year, but he will likely play against Yale next weekend.