After edging out a win over its least intimidating Ivy League foe last weekend, Cornell football will now face its most challenging conference opponent so far.
Following a narrow, last-minute victory over last-place Brown, the Red will welcome Princeton, a team that has ripped off six straight victories to start the season.
Burned in Cornell fans’ minds is last year’s devastating outcome against the Tigers. In a contest that snowballed out of control, the Red was trounced, 66-0, in the program’s worst loss in 128 years.
“I don’t think you ever forget something like that,” said head coach David Archer ’05. “Certainly, the way that game transpired — they were ready to go — they circled us on their calendar because we upset them on national TV the year before.”
In 2017, Cornell scored 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to knock off the Tigers on the road, 29-28. The last three points came from then-sophomore Nickolas Null, who booted a game-winning 43-yard field goal in the final seconds to secure the victory.
When the Red squares off against Princeton, it will hope for a result more along those lines compared to the fate it suffered last year.
Given last year’s loss, Archer’s players carry a chip on their shoulders as they hope to avenge that historic defeat.
“We’re not going to forget that,” said senior linebacker Malik Leary. “But every time we step on the field, we’re motivated, and now we know that we don’t need that to happen again.”
Had the Red lost to Brown, the remainder of its season would have looked bleak with four difficult Ivy contests left. But after its win, Cornell maintains hope heading into a tough conference slate.
The emotional victory was fueled in part by a pregame speech from Leary — many of his teammates praised the senior’s speech in motivating their strong play.
“Every year, the seniors are given one chance to just address the team, tell them whatever is in their hearts,” Leary said, explaining the senior speeches. “My message was letting them know that we already know who’s for us and who’s against us. The only people who believe in us are the people in the room.”
“We just made sure that when we went out there and played, we blocked out all the noise,” Leary continued.
The contest will take place on Friday night, a spot that Cornell has not traditionally performed well in.
“Last year, we played Friday night, I feel like we came out flat,” Archer said. “I really want to start fast … history will tell you that we come out flat on Friday — we can’t afford to against [Princeton].”
In its primetime slot against Penn in 2018, the Red underwhelmed at home. Cornell held a 7-3 lead at halftime, but it was held scoreless by the Quakers in the second half en route to a 20-7 loss.
As Archer said, Cornell cannot afford a subpar showing against such a stout opponent. Compared to Yale or Harvard — two Ivy teams the Red has already faced, and lost against — Princeton is a tier above.
The Tigers boast the second-highest scoring offense in the nation at 41.5 points per game, and they also have one of the best defenses in the country, holding their opponents to only 14.8 points per game, good for fifth in the FCS.
Despite Princeton seeing four of its stars leave to play in the NFL after last year, its attack has not missed a beat. Senior quarterback Kevin Davidson has dominated, averaging over 300 passing yards per game along with an impressive 70.49 completion percentage.
On the ground, the Tigers are just as fierce. Four running backs have eclipsed 100 rushing yards on the season. Leading the pack is junior Collin Eaddy, who has tallied 401 yards and seven touchdowns.
After giving up 35 points to a high-powered Bear offense last week, the Red’s defense will certainly have its hands full. But given the fact that Brown head coach James Perry previously coached at Princeton, Cornell may be more adjusted heading into the game.
“What’s ironic with coach Perry getting the job at Brown is you see almost the same style two weeks in a row,” Archer said. “We’re essentially facing the same offense — just year seven of it versus year one of it.”
The Red will hope that familiarity pays off as it seeks to upset the Tigers at 6 p.m. Friday at Schoellkopf Field.