Cornell’s football season is already playing out differently than past years.
For two years in a row, the Red has faced the tough task of playing Delaware, an FCS powerhouse. In both 2017 and 2018, Cornell lost, falling into an early hole.
But this time around, the Red were gifted with an early season matchup against Marist College, a much weaker foe. In spite of its sloppy play, Cornell knocked off the Red Foxes on the road, 21-7. Now, the Red must turns its eyes from arguably its easiest matchup of the season to one of its hardest.
This weekend, Cornell will venture out to New Haven, Connecticut, to take on Yale, the preseason pick to finish atop the Ancient Eight.
After clinching the Ivy crown in 2017, Yale regressed the following year, finishing with a fourth-place tie during an injury-plagued season. In their 2019 opener, the Bulldogs — like the Red — kicked off the season in an unimpressive manner, letting a Holy Cross team hang around for much of the contest before topping the Crusaders, 23-10.
To play against an intimidating opponent like Yale this early in the year is an exciting opportunity for head coach David Archer ’05.
“You only get 10 [games],” Archer said. “Especially the league games — they’re like bowl games. And this one’s really a bowl game playing in the Yale Bowl against the preseason favorite.”
Fresh off earning his second career Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week honors, senior cornerback David Jones described a different energy in the locker room following the Red’s opening victory.
“Losing the season opener — you come in during the weekend and you’re a little down,” said Jones. “Right now, there’s a lot of confidence … lot of good energy we’re trying to channel into this week.”
Matching up against such a vaunted opponent this early in the year is also a plus for Jones.
“It raises the bar for us this week, especially for how we prepare for that,” Jones said. “You definitely like to see them early because you kind of hope, in a way, they’re not as good as they are capable of being or projected of being.”
Cornell’s defense turned in a phenomenal effort last week, holding Marist’s ground game to a measly two rushing yards. But the challenge this week will be far greater as Yale boasts one of
the top quarterbacks in the Ivy League in senior Kurt Rawlings. During the sixth game of the 2018 season against Penn, Rawlings suffered a season-ending injury on a second-half run. From there, Yale lost three of its last four games. Rawlings’ last full season — which came in 2017 — saw him pass for 2,320 yards and 19 touchdowns while running for 226 yards and two more scores.
Next to Rawlings in the Bulldogs’ backfield is junior Zane Dudek, one of the top running backs in the Ivy League. Similar to Rawlings, Dudek saw his 2018 season derailed by injury. But during his freshman year, the Pennsylvania native led the Ivy League in nearly every rushing statistic, tallying 1,135 rushing yards, 15 touchdowns, and an average of 7.1 yards per carry: the second best in Ivy history.
Archer described the challenge of defending against a multi-threat offense.
“You can’t say, ‘let’s take Rawlings,’ and limit his production because they have other guys that will do it … They have too many weapons, so you really have to play great team defense.”
In the past two years, Cornell has come close to defeating Yale. Last year, the Red battled the Bulldogs during Homecoming and came within two points during the fourth quarter. But Yale held on for the victory.
“I feel like we have some unfinished business to take care of,” said senior quarterback Mike Catanese. “We lost to them on our home turf, 30-24. We feel like it kind of slipped through our fingers, and we’re going to try not to have that happen this year.”
The year before, Cornell played well in the first half but trailed at the intermission, 14-10. From there, though, the wheels fell off as Yale bullied the Red in the second half to run away with the game, 49-24.
“We got to finish,” said Archer. “Kind of like the last two years seasonally … We just got to be able to finish and put four quarters together.”