For the past five seasons, the Trustees’ Cup has eluded Cornell football.
On Saturday, the Red will try to claim the Cup as it travels down to Philadelphia to face a Penn team that has also encountered its fair share of struggles in 2019.
Coming off a narrow victory against Brown, Cornell hosted Princeton for a Friday night matchup last week. While the Red put forth a strong effort against the reigning Ivy League champion, it ultimately fell, 21-7.
“I mean, we all feel like it’s one that got away from us,” said senior safety Jelani Taylor. “We were confident going into the game, and we knew that they were a well-coached team, but we let up a couple big plays here and there.”
The team now shifts its focus to the Quakers as it seeks to take home its first Trustees’ Cup since 2013.
“We’re really proud of how hard we played and effort put forth,” head coach David Archer ’05 said. “The Trustees’ Cup is a bowl game with an actual trophy to win, which is surprising to a lot of people here because we haven’t won it since 2013.”
Since the Ivy League doesn’t hold a playoff for football, this game is the closest that Cornell can come to hoisting an actual trophy.
“Getting the cup — that’s our trophy, that’s our bowl game,” said junior wide receiver Phazione McClurge. “It’s a good opportunity to win a big game for the program.”
The last time Cornell played Penn, it led 7-3 at halftime. But in the second half, the Red was shut down by the Quakers as it lost, 20-7, at home. Penn went on to finish the year 6-4 and fourth in the Ancient Eight.
This time around, the Quakers have struggled through their first seven games. Penn has only notched three victories — two of which came in non-conference play. And the only conference win that the Quakers achieved came against bottom-feeder Brown. In that game, Penn — like Cornell — needed a last-minute field goal to secure the victory.
Working in Cornell’s favor are Penn’s defensive struggles. The Quakers have given up at least 24 points to all of their opponents this season and at least 36 points in their past three games.
“They’re very similar defensively to Brown, in terms of the coverages they play,” Archer said. “Brown’s more four-down, these guys are more three-down. They’re similar in the types of blitzes they use … I think that should give our offense confidence.”
When the Red defeated the Bears, it put up a season-high 37 points thanks to Brown’s porous defense. While Penn’s defense has not struggled as much as the Bears’, it still ranks near the bottom of the Ivy League in giving up 425 yards per game to its opponents.
Cornell will hope for a similar showing on offense when it faces Penn on Saturday. McClurge — who has broken out as the team’s leading receiver with 417 yards — noted the unit’s growth ahead of the matchup.
“You look at some of the first games, I would say we have grown tremendously,” McClurge said. “I feel like we’re definitely starting to glue together as a team.”
Containing Penn’s leading rusher — senior Karekin Brooks — will be a tall task for the Red. While Brooks missed last week’s game, he is expected to suit up, and he currently leads the Ivy League with 126.8 rushing yards per game.
“Karekin Brooks didn’t play against Brown, but he’s one of the premier backs in the Ivy League,” Archer said. “Everything kind of starts and ends with him.”
With only three conference games remaining, there is an increased sense of urgency emanating from the Cornell locker room. Given Penn’s struggles, this contest presents itself as one of the Red’s best opportunities to notch another Ivy win.
“Regardless of the opponent — whether it’s Penn, Dartmouth or Columbia — we only got 19 days left in the 2019 season,” Archer said. “In those 19 days, there’s three huge ones that can really turn what this team is about and what the record is. It can make a very different story.”
“It’s been a long road, so this game, especially for the seniors — we want to finish the season strong for them,” McClurge said.
The Red will look to knock off the Quakers at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday at Franklin Field.