Cornell football entered Harvard Stadium looking for its first win over the Crimson in Cambridge since 2000. Unfortunately for the Red, it failed to extend its winning streak over Harvard to three games as injuries and a poor second quarter derailed any hopes of a victory. While Cornell fought hard, it ultimately fell to the Crimson, 35-22. Here are eight takeaways from the Red’s third straight loss:
The Red already entered Saturday’s contest dealing with numerous injuries, and following its defeat, more names were added to a startling toll. Before the game even started, Cornell’s prospects were dealt a massive blow when head coach David Archer ’05 delivered the news that senior starting quarterback Mike Catanese would miss the rest of the season. Not only that, but sophomore running back Delonte Harrell was absent from the game. Victims of in-game injuries included senior linebacker Lance Blass and running backs Devon Brewer and Jake Derderian. Still, the Red stayed in the game against a tough Ivy League foe for much of the day.
Cornell held an early advantage over Harvard. After punting on its first drive, the Crimson committed a gaffe on its return as Nickolas Null’s punt hit the return man, allowing the Red to recover in the red zone. Junior quarterback Richie Kenney and the offense trotted back onto the field, and Cornell covered the remaining distance as Kenney completed a 10-yard touchdown pass to Eric Gallman to take an early 7-0 lead. The Crimson then knotted the game at seven apiece, but Null kicked a 49-yard field goal to give the Red a three-point lead. That turned out to be Cornell’s last lead as Harvard’s high-powered attack proceeded to torch the Red defense.
Of the 35 points that Harvard scored, 21 of them came in a dominant second quarter. Following Null’s field goal, the Crimson offense flipped the switch. Harvard only needed four plays to take the lead as junior quarterback Jake Smith notched two completions of 20-plus yards, and junior running back Devin Darrington cashed in on a 22-yard touchdown plunge. Kenney threw an interception on the next drive, and the Crimson took over in Cornell territory. After a couple of negative plays, wide receiver Cody Chrest snuck behind the Cornell secondary and scored a wide-open 32-yard touchdown to extend the Crimson’s lead — a play that mirrored the Red’s two costly defensive breakdowns against Georgetown. The onslaught wasn’t over as the Crimson orchestrated a long drive that ended with a B.J. Watson rushing touchdown at the end of the half to hand Cornell an 18-point deficit — one that the Red could never erase.
Being forced into the starting quarterback role under these tough circumstances was certainly not easy for Kenney. Harvard’s defense came in leading the Ivy League with 15 sacks, and it added six more to its total on Saturday. Not only that, but the Crimson also entered with the top rushing defense in the Ancient Eight. Cornell’s run game struggled as senior running back Harold Coles only managed 34 rushing yards on 15 carries. Despite all of this, Kenney held his own in hostile territory. While the Sewanee, Georgia, native did not do enough to win the game as he completed less than 50 percent of his passes, the junior did show off his arm on several nice throws. When it was all said and done, Kenney completed 15 passes for 251 yards with two touchdowns and a pick. Besides the big plays that Kenney executed, the most encouraging sign from this game was the lack of turnovers. After Kenney’s four interceptions against Yale, he only committed one giveaway against an imposing Crimson defense. Kenney clearly has the ability to make big plays, and if he can continue to keep the mistakes at a minimum, then the fall-off from Catanese will be more manageable.
In one of the more positive moments from the game, senior punter and kicker Nickolas Null kicked a 49-yard field goal to give Cornell the lead back in the second quarter. The conversion was a personal-best for Null and stands as the sixth-longest field goal in program history. The boot carries even more significance as this was Null’s first time engaging in place-kicking duties in 2019. After missing most of the year in 2018, Null was absent from Cornell’s first contest at Marist before only punting against Yale and Georgetown. With Cornell’s special teams ace back up to full health, the Red will be better suited to win in tighter games.
After three impressive outings, Cornell’s defense struggled against the third-highest scoring offense in the country. Most of the struggles came in the second quarter, though. The Red allowed Harvard to score three touchdowns in the second quarter while keeping the Crimson in check for the most part during the other three frames. Still, Harvard exploited weaknesses in Cornell’s defense. For one, Smith completed several big pass plays routinely as he sliced and diced the Red secondary en route to 217 yards and three touchdowns. In a battle between the top red-zone defense (Cornell) and one of the better red-zone offenses (Harvard), the Crimson prevailed as it scored on all three of its possessions in the red zone.
Besides Delonte Harrell, who recorded an 89-yard touchdown catch against Yale, not a single player on the Cornell roster had eclipsed 100 total receiving yards up to this point. This matchup against Harvard the prime opportunity for the Red to break out of its receiving woes as the Crimson secondary was far weaker than its front-seven. After all, then-junior wide receiver Owen Peters hauled in five catches for 112 yards and the game-winning touchdown a year prior. Two newcomers broke out on Saturday — Gallman got the scoring started with the Red’s opening touchdown reception and ended the day with 34 yards. The real story, though, was junior wide receiver Phazione McClurge. The Chicago native made the conversion from defensive back to wide receiver in the offseason and had tallied three receptions for 53 yards through the first three games, but against the Crimson, he finished with five catches for a career-high 137 yards and a touchdown. The newly converted receiver established himself as a go-to weapon for Kenney with the team in comeback mode.
Given how the Red notched comeback victories over Harvard in its previous two outings, Cornell certainly had the ability to make up the difference as it trailed, 28-10, at the intermission. During the third quarter, Cornell stymied a more conservative Harvard offense to zero points, but the Red also failed to score. The Red’s comeback effort was reinvigorated when McClurge caught an impressive 34-yard touchdown from Kenney. While Ethan Agritelli missed the ensuing PAT, Cornell only trailed by 12 with 14 minutes remaining. Following that score, both teams stalled before Harvard notched its fifth touchdown of the day. McClurge added two more receptions for 59 yards on the next drive, setting up a six-yard Harold Coles touchdown run, but at that point, it was too little too late as Harvard had already sealed the game.