This post has been updated.
After last year’s debacle, which saw Cornell football suffer an embarrassing 66-0 defeat to Princeton in a game that snowballed out of control, the Red sought vengeance on national television.
But under the Friday night lights, Cornell fought hard, but it came up short in a 21-7 loss.
The Red’s performance marked an improvement over last year’s effort as the team limited the Tigers to only three scores. But on the offensive end, Cornell only managed one touchdown as three turnovers derailed several drives.
“As a defensive unit, we definitely kept that 66-0 loss in the back of our minds,” said junior safety Logan Thut. “We’re on national television — we definitely didn’t want to get embarrassed like last year. I think that provided a chip on our shoulder … we were close and our great group of guys kept fighting until the end.”
Early on, Princeton controlled the ball. In fact, during the first quarter, the Tigers possessed the rock for over 10 minutes. But during that time, the Red held Princeton scoreless.
That occurred as a result of Cornell’s fourth-down defense, which was ranked No. 1 in the country entering Friday’s clash. In the first frame alone, the Red stopped two Princeton drives on fourth and short while backed up in its own territory.
Still, the Red could not use that momentum to its advantage. It could not score in the first frame, and it only managed one touchdown thereafter. A 9% conversion rate on third down paired with the aforementioned turnovers sunk any chance the Red had at a victory.
“We needed to capitalize on some plays,” junior wide receiver Alex Kuzy said. “We had some bad plays that ended up costing us a lot more than it should have.”
In the second quarter, the Red eventually broke down on defense as the Tigers found their mojo. Princeton’s first score came courtesy of a Cornell turnover. Sophomore running back Delonte Harrell fumbled after catching a screen pass, gifting the Tigers the ball at Cornell’s 37-yard line.
It didn’t take long for Princeton to find the end zone. Tigers running back Ryan Quigley carved up the Red for two 15-yard gains, and fellow back Collin Eaddy finished the job with a three-yard score, giving Princeton the early lead.
After Cornell’s offense stalled again, Princeton soaked up every last minute of the half on the ensuing drive. After a big tackle for a loss by Thut, the Tigers faced a 3rd-and-14 in their own territory. That was when quarterback Kevin Davidson unleashed a deep ball to Andrew Griffin, who corralled the pass for a 33-yard gain.
From there, Princeton continued to crack Cornell’s defense. Quigley and Eaddy worked the ball down to the Red’s four-yard line, where Davidson capped off the drive with a touchdown pass to Griffin to give the Tigers a two-score lead.
Though Cornell’s first drive mirrored its previous first-half possessions, the team was able to string together a successful drive midway through the third. Kenney kickstarted the effort with a big 39-yard pass to junior wide receiver Phazione McClurge.
Sophomore running back Thomas Glover then emerged for several big plays. The Pasadena, California native recorded two first downs with a 23-yard catch and a 10-yard run, the latter of which set up first-and-goal at the Princeton one-yard line. There, Kenney ran in for Cornell’s first score.
Kuzy, who caught four passes for 38 yards, touched on his growing connection with his quarterback.
“We came in in the same grade, and since then, we’ve worked our way up together,” Kuzy said. “The chemistry is building, and I’m excited to see where it continues to go.”
Trailing by just a touchdown and with a bit of momentum swung its way, the Red suffered another defensive breakdown. On third down, Davidson completed a simple screen pass to Dylan Classi, who ran all the way to the red zone on the 49-yard gain. Eaddy then punched in the rock to quickly restore Princeton’s two-touchdown advantage.
“We came on an all-out blitz, and they picked the perfect play to counter it,” Thut said. “They got us on that one.”
Senior safety Jelani Taylor did his best to keep his team in the contest. The co-captain, who was recently named a finalist for William V. Campbell Trophy, recorded both an interception and a forced fumble in the second half, but the Red still could not better its total of seven points.
“[The defense] follows the leader, and the leader is Jelani Taylor,” said head coach David Archer ’05. “He makes that thing go. The coaches had a great plan, but [Taylor] makes it go. He’s playing at such a high level, and he’s one of the best defenders in the Ivy League.”
After Taylor forced a fumble midway through the fourth quarter, Kenney and the Cornell offense worked it deep into Princeton territory, but Kenney threw an interception in the end zone — his second pick of the contest — all but ending the game.
“I thought we were going to pull it off, but we didn’t,” Archer said. “We gave the ball away too much and weren’t good enough on third down to sustain drives.”
Like all of its previous contests, the Red was firmly in contention thanks to a phenomenal effort from its defense, but Cornell’s shortcomings on offense held it back.
“The offense has a lot of new guys, and it sounds like the same song — and it is,” Archer said. “I’m tired of hearing it, everybody’s tired of hearing it, but it’s the truth. The game experience just hasn’t caught up — it’s better … but it’s not solid.”
The Red will hope for a better offensive performance as it travels to Penn next weekend in search of its second Ivy victory.