This post has been updated.
Cornell football marched into a contest against undefeated Dartmouth on Saturday looking to play spoiler — with a win, Dartmouth would clinch the Ivy League title on its Senior Day.
Entering with a 2-6 record, the Red seemed to have little chance of pulling out a victory. After all, it came in as a 30.5-point underdog. Improbably, Cornell delayed Dartmouth’s shot at the title.
The Red came from behind with 5:32 left in the game to down the Green, 20-17.
“There’s a saying that ‘You are what your record says,’” said head coach David Archer ’05. “Not these kids — they have a next level of resiliency and togetherness, and I’m super proud of them and happy for them.”
The win comes in the midst of a year in which Cornell has dropped many close games, including two contests that were decided by only one point.
“I’m really proud of our team and our staff — we’ve had an adversity-filled year,” Archer said. “We played in some really close games where we felt we should have won. I told them, ‘It takes a really special group of people to not let that affect you going forward.’”
Cornell actually took an early lead in the contest — it was the Red who got on the board first with a field goal. But that 3-0 lead wouldn’t even last through the quarter, as with under a minute left in the first part of the tilt, Dartmouth cornerback Isiah Swann scored his team’s first touchdown when junior quarterback Richie Kenney missed his receiver. Before the interception, Kenney had completed eight of his first nine passes.
Swann returned his 16th career interception — a Dartmouth record — 69 yards to put Dartmouth ahead, a position the Green would maintain until Cornell’s game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter. The senior, who outran Cornell tackles down the field, is graduating early in order to prepare for the NFL draft this spring.
“He’s a phenomenal cornerback, I think he was the [Ivy League] Defensive Player of the Year last year,” Kenney said. “He’s a good playmaker, but that didn’t stop us from trying him.”
The second quarter looked similar to the first scoring-wise, with the only scoring being a Dartmouth touchdown and PAT and a Cornell field goal. Exiting the half, the score was 14-6.
Cornell carried the momentum of that late second-quarter field goal into the latter half of the game, putting up points quickly in the third quarter.
Things didn’t look promising when Kenney rushed for one yard before fumbling — but after recovering the ball, things started to swing in Cornell’s favor. On the next play, under a minute into the frame, senior running back Harold Coles rushed for 74 yards to make the score 14-12. Up until that point, the Erie, Pennsylvania, native had been stymied by Dartmouth’s stout defense.
“He’s had a ton of runs like that in his career,” Kenney said.
Coles, considered one of the best running backs in the Ivy League, rushed for 93 yards last weekend at Penn and finished with 111 against Dartmouth. Saturday’s game was his first with 100+ rushing yards since Sept. 28 at Yale.
The Cornell defensive unit returned to form in the third quarter, holding the Green scoreless for the duration of the frame to keep the Red in the game.
“The defense choked them out towards the end,” Kenney said. “It was great to see it all come together.”
In the third quarter, with a two-point lead too close for comfort for Dartmouth, the Green kicked a 34-yard field goal to extend its lead to five.
But Cornell’s next drive, which went the distance for 75 yards, put the Red on top — where it would stay until the final whistle was blown.
Kenney capped off the drive with a 24-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Owen Peters, bringing the score to 18-17, Cornell. The team went for the two-point conversion and, in a rare event, Kenney rushed into the end zone. The junior finished the day with 267 passing yards.
“We had a corner and a post, and the safety bit a little bit too much on the corner,” Kenney said. “Owen Peters made a great catch over the middle.”
With 5:32 left, Dartmouth was a field goal away from tying Cornell.
Dartmouth’s fate was sealed at its own 15-yard line with under two minutes in the contest when senior cornerback David Jones recorded his first interception of 2019.
From there, Cornell ran out the clock on offense as the Red won its first game against a ranked Ivy opponent since 2006. It also marked the first time that Cornell beat a ranked conference opponent on the road since 1950.
The Red’s mentality of having nothing to lose paid off as it spoiled the Green’s perfect record.
“We talked about how they had literally everything to lose — they had just played two enormous, emotional games,” Archer said. “I don’t think Dartmouth circled the Cornell game on their calendar … We could be the most dangerous team because we didn’t have anything to lose.”
“At this point, we’re probably not going to win the Ivy League Championship,” Kenney said. “All we’re really playing for is each other, for our brotherhood, for the seniors to send them out the right way.”
The Red will look for a proper send-off on Senior Day as it hosts Columbia next weekend in its final game of the year.