This post has been updated.
With Cornell football riding a three-game losing streak and Colgate winless in its first seven games, it was safe to say both teams needed a victory.
For the Red, its win drought continued as it dropped a narrow contest to the Raiders at home, 21-20.
While Cornell (1-4, 0-2 Ivy League) battled Colgate (1-7, 0-2 Patriot League) throughout the afternoon in a back-and-forth contest, it ultimately ended up on the wrong side of the scoreboard due to errors on both sides of the ball.
On offense, Cornell moved the ball well, gaining 364 yards on the day, but the Red turned the ball over three times and stalled near the red zone on several drives. Meanwhile, on defense, Cornell gave up 174 rushing yards to a Raider offense that came in averaging under 100 yards per game on the ground.
“The last two games, we dramatically decreased those [mistakes],” said head coach David Archer ’05. “Today they reared their ugly head … We seem to be hitting the tough shots but missing the layups.”
Junior wide receiver Eric Gallman believes these errors can be fixed.
“I think we just need to clean up the little things,” Gallman said. “We’ll be fine because we can execute. We’ve got the players, and I believe in our guys.”
The Red kicked off the contest with a strong drive. Junior quarterback Richie Kenney looked poised, completing several passes to junior wide receivers Phazione McClurge and Gallman. Couple that with a few chunk gains by senior running back Harold Coles, and Cornell found itself in scoring position. While the drive eventually stalled, the Red got on the board first thanks to a 39-yard field goal from junior kicker Garrett Patla.
From there, both offenses struggled to score for the rest of the frame. Colgate derailed several of its drives with penalties, and Raider junior quarterback Grant Breneman was picked off by sophomore safety Eric Stoxstill-Diggs outside the red zone.
The second quarter was unfolding much like it did against Harvard in last weekend’s contest. The Raiders erased Cornell’s early advantage with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Breneman to Nick Gill.
Following a fumble by sophomore running back Delonte Harrell, Colgate only needed one minute to traverse 41 yards into the end zone. It looked like the Raiders were going to up their total to 21 points when they worked it to the Red’s one-yard line in the final seconds of the first half.
But then, Breneman was tied up and strip-sacked by freshman linebacker Jake Stebbins, who broke out for seven tackles and a forced fumble last week against Harvard.
With the ball bouncing back toward a sea of green grass, senior safety Jelani Taylor scooped it up and ran 87 yards for the score. The fumble return is the program’s longest dating back to 1946.
“If Stebbins isn’t in the conversation for Ivy League rookie of the week — rookie of the year, even — who is,” Archer said. “The guy is just unfazed by college football, especially at linebacker — that’s a really physical position.”
“Jelani Taylor’s always in the right place, and that’s by his own preparation,” said Archer.
Instead of trailing by 18, Cornell went into halftime with only a four-point deficit and the momentum in its favor.
“[The fumble recovery] helped us momentum-wise, especially after we gave up a couple of plays on defense,” Taylor said.
After the intermission, the Red came out firing. Cornell stymied the Raiders offense, and Kenney and co. took over. Buoyed by a 53-yard catch-and-run by senior wide receiver Owen Peters, the Red marched all the way down to the end zone. But on a carry at the goal line, Harrell coughed up the rock once again, giving Colgate the ball.
The fumble did not matter too much in the long run as the Raiders were stymied deep in their own territory. The ensuing punt only went for 30 yards, gifting Cornell prime field position. The Red did not squander this opportunity — Coles notched 22 yards on a reception, and junior running back SK Howard finished off the drive with a five-yard touchdown catch to put Cornell up by three.
On the very next possession, Colgate responded with a touchdown of its own. The Raiders orchestrated a seven-play, 78-yard drive that featured a 49-yard run by running back Alex Mathews. The senior capped off the drive with a one-yard run into the end zone, putting Colgate back on top, 21-17.
In the remaining minutes of the third quarter, Kenney led a drive that featured a 23-yard third-down conversion to McClurge as well as two fourth-down conversions. By the end of the frame, the Red had reached the Colgate 15-yard line.
Cornell could not fully cash in. On third down, Kenney fumbled on a sack, but senior tight end John Fitzgerald recovered the ball, which bounced a few yards forward. On fourth down, Archer opted for the points, sending out Patla, who successfully kicked the 28-yard field goal to cut the deficit to one.
“If you’re down more, then you probably go for it on fourth [down],” said Archer. “So, [we] kicked the field goal to make it 21-20, because I thought, ‘points are going to be at a premium, and we might win this thing on a kick.’”
The Red never found the winning score. Both teams traded possessions during the fourth, and Cornell had one more opportunity to take the lead.
Starting from his 18-yard line, Kenney led a drive that featured a fourth-down conversion and a pass interference by the Raiders, which moved the Red into opposing territory. That marked the extent of Cornell’s drive, though, as Kenney threw several incomplete passes on the next set of downs, including a fourth-down throw to Owen Peters toward the receiver’s feet.
Despite the tough loss, one positive takeaway was that Saturday’s contest was not a conference game.
“We know the Ivy League games are the ones that count for us,” said Archer, echoing the same sentiment from the Georgetown loss.
The Red will take on Brown next Saturday as it searches for its second win of 2019. Kickoff is at 1:30 at Schoellkopf Field.