This article has been updated.
In front of an energized homecoming crowd of 12,555 spectators, Cornell football was unable to come up with a win against Virginia Military Institute.
The Red stayed in the game, but failed to convert on multiple opportunities in the fourth quarter. Cornell mustered just two first downs in the fourth quarter, despite possessing the ball four times. The lackluster fourth-quarter offense allowed VMI to hold on to its lead, eventually winning 31-21.
The big question for Cornell (0-1) coming into its first game in 665 days was how quickly it would get to game speed against a VMI (2-1) team that has played 10 games since the Red last took the field.
“I was pleased with our game speed,” Head Coach David Archer ’05 said. “I saw us just be a little rusty … I’ve never had to prepare a team that hasn’t played football in two years before, and I think that’s really what you saw.”
Cornell’s defense did not show any signs of rust to start the game. The Red immediately forced a three-and-out after VMI received the opening kick.
The Red’s offense, however, got off to a slow start. The Red was forced to punt on its first drive after a botched snap backed them up and brought up a 3rd and 15. Cornell had just two first downs and 49 yards of offense during its three possessions in the first quarter.
On the first play after Cornell’s punt, VMI starting quarterback Seth Morgan was injured after rushing up the middle and being hit by senior safety Isaiah Hogan. Freshman Collin Ironside came in to replace Morgan. Ironside finished 27-of-42 for 230 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
Ironside came into the game and led the offense down the field with a no huddle offense. The Red defense caught a break when a 28-yard rush to the Cornell 1-yard line was called back for a hold. Cornell forced an incompletion on 3rd and 13 to keep VMI off the board.
Cornell’s offense looked more comfortable on its next possession, driving 37 yards on six plays. However, the drive ended when a fumble by senior running back Delonte Harrell was recovered by VMI’s Stone Snyder, who ran it back 20 yards to the Cornell 30-yard line.
The fumble set the Keydets up with great field position. A VMI false start and a sack by fifth-year linebacker Lance Blass and sophomore Noah Taylor gave the Cornell defense a chance to get off the field on 3rd and 13. Instead, Ironside found receiver Leroy Thomas wide open and connected for a 25-yard gain that set VMI up with first and goal. The Keydets easily punched in a 1-yard touchdown run to jump out to a 7-0 lead.
The Cornell offense was initially unable to respond, going three and out on their next two possessions. However, after the Keydets missed a 35-yard field goal, the Red offense put together a scoring drive.
Fifth-year quarterback Richie Kenney opened the drive by finding senior wide receiver Thomas Glover for a 27-yard completion. Two plays later, Kenney and Glover connected over the middle for a 45-yard touchdown to even the score. Glover had a monster first half, finishing with 159 yards on seven catches.
“We knew they were running man, so I just had to beat the man in front of me,” Glover said. “It was really just attack mode.”
After a pass-breakup by fifth-year defensive back Kenan Clarke forced a punt on VMI’s next possession, the Red took over at its own 27-yard line. The offense was unable to get anything going and found itself facing a 4th and 2 from its own 35-yard line. Archer elected to go for it.
“I use an outside company that helps me with some analytics, and they tell me the odds on [each] down and distance,” Archer said. “The odds were slightly in my favor and I was feeling pretty aggressive. I liked the defense and I liked the O-line, so we rolled the dice.”
The Red’s 4th down play came up a yard short, and the Keydets took over on Cornell’s 36-yard line. Once again finding themselves with great field position, the Keydets had no trouble putting together a six play scoring drive, capped off by a 16-yard touchdown pass to Jakob Herres that put VMI up 14-7.
The Keydets and the Red both put together defensive stands before the Red took over on its 49-yard line following an interception by senior safety Eric Diggs. On the first play of Cornell’s drive, Kenney found his new favorite target Glover for a 30-yard reception. Three plays later, a 15-yard completion to fifth-year receiver Alex Kuzy set the Red up on VMI’s 4-yard line. A 3-yard touchdown rush by fifth-year running back SK Howard evened the score with 20 seconds left in the first half.
The connection between Glover and Kenney emerged as one of the bright spots of the loss.
“[Kenney] was just dropping dimes, putting it exactly where it needed to be,” Glover said. “It was easy for me. They just dropped into my hands.”
Despite having just 40 career receiving yards coming into the game, Glover’s big day was not a surprise to the Red coaching staff.
“Glover proved he was a playmaker in training camp, and did it when the bright lights were on today,” Archer said. “He’s earned the right to get the ball.”
After Cornell’s touchdown, it seemed that both teams would enter the half tied at 14, especially with just 20 seconds remaining. VMI had different plans, though, as running back and kick returner Korey Bridy took the kick for 60 yards all the way to Cornell’s 35-yard line.
Cornell only practiced one live kickoff because the risk of injuries is much higher on kickoffs than other plays.
“That was our second live kick covered in two years,” Archer said. “Now that we’ve done a game … we can work the drills that correspond with that.”
The Red then committed a holding infraction, setting up VMI placekicker Jerry Rice with a 41-yard field goal attempt, which the sophomore proceeded to convert. The back-and-forth contest saw VMI enter the half holding a 17-14 edge.
The second half started with a pair of Cornell possessions resulting in punts before VMI put together a 53-yard drive that was capped off by Ironside taking it in himself for a 4-yard touchdown rush. The touchdown extended VMI’s lead to 24-14.
Facing a 10-point deficit, the Red offense got to work. Kenney and the offense pieced together a seven-play, 75-yard scoring drive to bring the score to 24-21 VMI. Kenney found senior receiver Curtis Raymond III for a 17-yard touchdown — Raymond’s first career touchdown as well as his first career catch.
After two punts a piece for the Red and the Keydets, VMI drove into Cornell’s red zone. The Red had a chance to hold the Keydets to a field goal attempt on 3rd and 9, but a pass interference call on Clarke set the Keydets up with first-and-goal. Ironside found Herres for a 7-yard touchdown pass to put VMI up 31-21 with 6:57 left in the fourth quarter.
“I just have to keep putting myself in a good position to make plays on the ball and trust myself with that,” Clarke said.
Down 10 with less than seven minutes left, Cornell found itself in need of some points. The Red managed to drive 56 yards down field into VMI territory. After a pair of incompletions, the Red were forced to settle for a 38-yard field goal attempt. Senior kicker’s Scott Lees’ kick had the distance, but it sailed left of the uprights.
A defensive stand gave the Red another opportunity, but the offense was unable to convert a first down, allowing the Keydets to run out the clock on a 31-21 victory.
“We’ve got to come back tomorrow to polish [some] rust off because I think we’ve got the makings of a really good team,” Archer said.
The Red will look to get back in the win column next Saturday when it opens up conference play at Yale.