A banged-up Cornell roster bounced back into winning ways against a physical Bucknell side on Tuesday.
Going into the match, Cornell seemed to have lost its early-season momentum, unable to harness the same energy exhibited in big wins against Michigan State and Akron in its more recent games. The Red was winless in its past three contests, suffering two losses and tying against an underwhelming Brown side, who was just 2-8-2 heading into the game.
Key pieces were missing for the Red, as its two leading goal scorers were unable to play. Junior midfielder Harry Fuller, who leads the team with four goals, sat out due to yellow card penalty accumulation.
Sophomore midfielder Emeka Eneli, who has scored three, has been out with a lower leg injury and recently ditched a protective walking boot. The team also missed a vocal leader on the defensive side, as junior goalkeeper Ryan Shellow was out with a hand injury.
Despite a compromised roster, Cornell started out strong early in the game – dominating possession and working the ball forward.
“We put guys in today who haven’t played a lot of minutes [all season] and did quite well,” said head coach John Smith.
The pace was dictated by junior midfielder Kepler Despinos, who did a nice job of distributing balls out to the wide flanks. Unfortunately, Despinos had to be helped off the field in the second half after suffering an awkward fall.
With Fuller out, junior midfielder Tyler Bagley was the go-to for set-piece situations.
“[Bagley spends] 30 minutes with the ball practicing free kicks and corners [before each practice],” Smith said.
10 minutes into the second half, his preparation was on full display for the Berman crowd. Bagley stepped up for a free-kick set just outside the 18-yard box. After the whistle blew, Bagley hit a curling strike that rattled off the crossbar and bounced on the goal line.
Luckily for the Red, senior forward Brady Dickens stuck with the play and headed home the bouncing ball for the go-ahead goal. The goal marked the senior’s second of the season.
The Red continued to look for an insurance goal, but could not distance the gap. Cornell had plenty of chances, thanks to dangerous passes by Bagley and sophomore midfielder Jonah Kagen, and finished with 9 shots.
The absence of Fuller and Eneli was obvious on offense as the Red struggled to extend the lead. The attack was constantly swarmed by a rough and stifling Bison defense, which fouled Cornell 14 times.
“We knew it was going to be an ugly game,” Smith said.
Additionally, junior forward Charles Touche, last year’s leading goal-scorer in the Ivy League, has only managed a single goal all season and has still not regained last year’s form.
Due to the stagnant offense, Cornell left itself vulnerable to a potential Bucknell equalizing goal as the game wound down. Last-second drama has been all too familiar for the Red this season, falling on both the fortunate and unfortunate sides of late-game sequences. This time around, the Red almost blew a hard-fought win.
“It was sketchy at the end,” said Bagley.
Freshman goalkeeper Brady McSwain and the Cornell defense were out of position when a dangerous ball found the feet of a Bucknell attackman in the box with seconds left. The entire roster breathed a sigh of relief as a Bison close-range shot sailed over the goal. The final whistle sounded 3 seconds later, giving Cornell the 1-0 win.
“It was too close for comfort,” Smith said.
While the win improves the Red’s record, in order to avoid falling back into a slump, the team must regain its early-season confidence.
“This gives us a little of a spark,” said Smith.
Cornell faces off at Princeton in a conference matchup at 4:00 p.m. Saturday.