Two Ivy teams searching for their first conference win of the season will go toe-to-toe on Saturday at Schoellkopf Field. Brown and Cornell, each of which has only one victory in 2019, are in the throes of battling for seventh place in the Ivy League.
The Bears have finished the past two seasons last in the Ancient Eight, leading the program to make some personnel changes. This year, Brown brought back former player and assistant coach James Perry to head the squad. He, in turn, brought his nephew to Providence — junior quarterback E.J. Perry transferred from Boston College to play under Brown’s new head coach.
James Perry spent the last two years coaching at Bryant following a stint as Princeton’s offensive coordinator. Cornell head coach David Archer ’05 thinks he knows what to expect from seeing Perry with the Tigers.
“It’s going to be a lot of plays offensively, a lot of fast, up-tempo offense,” Archer said. “That’s his DNA.”
As a player at Brown, James Perry was one of the school’s — and the Ivy League’s — all-time leading passers, playing the same position that his nephew has now taken over.
The new quarterback has seen success in the starting role, having already thrown for 1,298 yards and 10 touchdowns in addition to having totaled 343 rushing yards — putting him atop the Ivy League in total offensive yardage.
While Cornell has failed to score more than 22 points in a single contest, Brown has only fallen short of that mark once so far this season.
“[James Perry’s] nephew is the starting quarterback and a really outstanding player. Really outstanding,” Archer said. “Can run, can throw — all that. He just has a presence about him. When you watch him on tape, he will stand in the pocket; he doesn’t get fazed.”
Brown’s defense is far weaker — its opponents have scored 30 or more in every tilt this year. On Saturday, Princeton demolished the Bears, 65-22.
“They’re putting in a new defense … They’ll plug you in the box — they’ll plus-one you in the box and make it very difficult to run,” Archer said. “People have success throwing on them.”
Now could be the time for the Cornell offense to break out. The unit has looked more cohesive in recent weeks, even despite a smattering of injuries hindering and taking down key offensive pieces. Against Colgate, junior quarterback Richie Kenney seemed more at ease than in his previous start at Harvard, completing 22 passes for 268 yards.
“Richie gets more comfortable with every rep he gets, so that’s definitely good,” said senior tight end John Fitzgerald. “The more you play with someone, the more you’re going to gel with them.”
Senior running back Harold Coles was also again looking like the player the Red so desperately needs right now, rushing for 89 yards on 17 carries in the game. Coles has played through a nagging hamstring injury over the course of the season — but still has rushed for 454 yards through the first half of 2019.
Even so, the fact remains that Cornell’s struggles are far from behind the team as it looks to break its current four-game skid this weekend following its back-and-forth 21-20 loss to Colgate.
“Everyone’s seen that we haven’t executed when we need to. I think we need to perform the fundamentals a lot better than we have been,” Fitzgerald said.
Cornell will need to continue to look solid defensively to keep up with Brown and E.J. Perry this weekend. With freshman linebacker Jake Stebbins the reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Week for the second time in a row, there is promise with the unit even in the wake of losing players to injury.
“Lance [Blass] is the starter over me. He got hurt. So I just had to go in and do what I can do,” Stebbins said. “So there really wasn’t a choice for me, other than to perform.”
Stebbins instigated the most exciting play of last Saturday, sacking Colgate quarterback Grant Breneman to force a fumble that was recovered by senior safety Jelani Taylor. Taylor returned the ball for an 87-yard touchdown. Stebbins recorded a total of six tackles on the day.
Brown no longer looks like the team that does little more than guarantee that Cornell will not finish last in the league. With the Bears and Red currently tied at the bottom of the conference, Saturday’s outcome is anything but certain.
“The [Brown] quarterback is one of the best we’ve played,” Stebbins said. “I think if we stick to our fundamentals and Coach puts in a good game plan like he always does, I think we can shut them down.”
Cornell will go for its first Ivy League win at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Schoellkopf Field.