Following a heartbreaking one-point loss to Penn on Saturday, Cornell football has nothing to lose.
Meanwhile, its upcoming opponent — Dartmouth — has everything to lose with an 8-0 record. The Green is coming off a dominant victory over Princeton, last year’s Ivy League champion. A week prior to that, Dartmouth edged out Harvard thanks to a Hail Mary.
Cornell and Brown are the only two teams that stand in the Green’s path toward a conference title. With the Red currently situated at seventh in the standings after a number of close decisions, head coach David Archer ’05 views his team as the most dangerous in the Ivy League.
“We don’t have the record we want — we don’t have the record we expect,” Archer said. “And without anything to lose, that makes us really dangerous.”
“So I view [Dartmouth]as having everything to lose — their entire season could go down the tubes with a loss to Cornell,” Archer continued. “And we have everything to gain.”
Despite its 2-6 record, the Red is arguably coming off one of its better performances of the season. Cornell outplayed the Quakers in nearly every statistical category. But a few big plays — including an 80-yard touchdown off a trick play — propelled Penn to victory.
“When you look at it, statistically, we beat them, but when it comes down to the one thing that matters — [the final score] — we didn’t beat them,” said senior running back Harold Coles. “It was obviously frustrating, but it shows that we’re starting to put things together.”
While Cornell’s defense held Karekin Brooks to just 45 yards on the ground, the Red’s rushing attack shined. Coles gained 93 yards on over five yards per tote, and fellow running back — junior SK Howard — also shone, churning 86 yards.
“[Howard] is a great guy — super humble and awesome,” Coles said. “We have a really deep talented running back room, so we knew the whole time that he was talented … He had a back injury at the beginning of the year, and now that he’s feeling really good, we can spread the ball around.”
Coles and co. will look to replicate that success against an imposing Dartmouth defense. With its opponents averaging just 10.1 points per game, the Green boasts the best defensive unit in the country.
“Dartmouth almost lines up identically each time,” Archer said. “They’ve blitzed 14 times all year. It’s very much, ‘I’m stronger than you, let’s see what happens.’”
That mentality has clearly worked for Dartmouth. The most points given up by the Green this year came in a matchup against Columbia. The Lions managed 24 points, but Dartmouth ran away with a 59-24 victory.
In fact, the Green has held six of its first eight opponents to 10 points or less, a frightening prospect for a Cornell team that has averaged under 19 points per game.
So if the Red wants to come out victorious, it will have to match Dartmouth’s physicality.
“They’re going to be really physical,” Archer said. “Their offensive line is outstanding, the quarterback [Jared Gerbino] is a really physical runner, their defensive line is really physical — similar to Harvard’s — so we need to match that physicality at the line of scrimmage.”
Dartmouth’s offensive line has only given up 10 sacks on the season — a mark that leads the Ivy League. The line has also opened up numerous holes in the running game, allowing the Green to lead the Ancient Eight in rushing with over 182 yards per game.
Not only will Cornell be playing one of the best teams in the country, but this contest will also be the penultimate game for the seniors on the team.
Senior defensive lineman Michael Gillooley reflected on only having two weeks left in the season.
“You start thinking about peewee football, Pop Warner, going up through high school, seeing what schools fit best for you,” Gillooley said. “Just seeing the culmination of everything you have worked for, the countless hours you put in.”
“We got two games left, we’re going to leave it all out there on the field,” Gillooley said. “Whatever happens, happens. We just got to go out there, have fun, and live the dream.”
Coles summed up the team’s mentality heading into the game.
“We’re trying to bounce back,” Coles said. “At this point, they’re the best team in the league, so we’re really playing with house money. There is literally nothing to lose.”
The Red will attempt to pull off a huge upset as it faces the Green on Saturday in Hanover, New Hampshire.