CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Cornell football entered Harvard Stadium on Saturday looking to extend a two-year winning streak against the Crimson and get its record back to .500. But the Red couldn’t rally against its favored opponent and fell to Harvard, 35-22.
Going into the game, the question was whether Cornell’s (1-3, 0-2 Ivy) formidable defense could slow down the strong Crimson (3-1, 2-0 Ivy) offense — in the second quarter, it became clear that the Harvard offense would win the battle as quarterback Jake Smith led the home team to three touchdowns.
An already-struggling Cornell offense suffered a blow going into the game as head coach David Archer ’05 revealed that senior quarterback Mike Catanese would be unavailable for Saturday’s game and would miss the rest of the season.
Catanese fell victim to a plethora of injuries early in the year, some named and others not. At Marist, he exited the contest with what Archer said at the time were cramps; last weekend, Catanese said he had also suffered a concussion.
The nature of his current ailment is undisclosed other than that it will keep him from seeing playing time for the remainder of the year.
With Catanese down for the count, junior quarterback Richie Kenney stepped in to lead the Red. Kenney threw two touchdowns but struggled throughout the game, completing 15-of-32 passes for 251 yards. He was sacked a total of six times.
“I’ve just got to be more crisp with my reads and get the ball out of my hand,” Kenney said.
Kenney is known to have a less explosive running game than Catanese, whose speed and footwork earned him the starting position earlier in the season.
The game got off to a promising start for Cornell — the Red took advantage of prime field position via a muffed punt and took a 7-0 lead less than five minutes into the contest when Kenney found junior Eric Gallman in the end zone for Gallman’s first touchdown of 2019.
Cornell’s offense struggled against Georgetown last weekend, a game after which Archer said he needed to take a hard look and assess the unit’s flaws. The Red’s 22 points today was a season-high, marking some degree of progress.
“I thought we started a little bit more together [today],” Archer said. “Some things got better, but some things — there are still the same problems.”
A myriad of penalties against the offense also hindered its progress, making it difficult for the team to stay in the game.
Harvard knotted the game with under two minutes to play in the first quarter. The Crimson capped off a 60-plus yard drive with a touchdown of its own as junior quarterback Jake Smith got the scoring started for his team.
The next scoring play was a historic one, as senior kicker Nickolas Null came up with a 49-yard field goal. That was good for a personal record and sixth-longest all-time in Cornell history.
“I know I have probably one of the strongest legs in the country, especially when I’m healthy. I can hit the ball as far as anybody, probably at this level and at the next level,” Null said. “I just told myself, don’t worry about the injury … just go out and be the player that you know you are and execute and perform.”
Recovering from a quad injury, Null had not been cleared to kick field goals up until today. He did not play at all against Marist and only punted against Yale and Georgetown.
His field goal marked a high point of an otherwise frustrating game for Cornell. After Null put the Red up, 10-7, Harvard went on to take the lead and run away from Cornell. The tally was 28-10 in Harvard’s favor going into halftime, and the Red never regained the lead.
“You can’t have three good quarters and one bad in a game of football against a good team,” said senior captain safety Jelani Taylor, who had 12 tackles and an interception in the loss. “We have to really take it to the next level when it comes to preparation.”
The last time Harvard lost a game in which it was leading going into halftime was in 2017 — against Cornell. That tilt marked the end of the Crimson’s 11-game win streak against the Red.
The third quarter was the only one in which neither team recorded a point. Junior linebacker Lance Blass had to be helped off the field partway through the quarter. He was limping and seemed to be favoring his right leg.
Cornell’s offensive efforts were foiled throughout the day as Harvard effectively defended senior running back Harold Coles, the Red’s strongest force on offense. Coles had dealt with hamstring issues going into the game. He carried the ball 15 times for 34 total yards, his lowest mark of the season.
Despite limiting the Crimson to seven points and 94 yards in the second half, Cornell’s highly-touted defense didn’t look very solid either, giving up a season-high 35 points.
“I wasn’t happy with how we tackled,” Archer said.
The fourth quarter saw three touchdowns; two for the Red and one for Harvard. It was the only quarter in which the Red outscored its opponent. Sophomore wide receiver Phazione McClurge’s fourth-quarter touchdown was part of a big day for the converted defensive back, who caught five passes for 137 yards.
“He’s just trying to get better and learn the offense, you know, because he’s a converted defensive kid and he had opportunities today and capitalized on it,” Archer said. “So that’s certainly a bright spot that we can keep going with in the future.”
Going forward, the Red is down several key players and will need to rely on a “next man up” mentality to salvage its season. But by the end of the game, the team seemed resigned.
“I don’t think they would beat us again. I think we just gave it to them today,” Null said. “Harvard football didn’t beat Cornell. Cornell football beat themselves.”
The Red hosts Colgate next Saturday in its final nonconference game of the season.