After a year-long hiatus from competition, Cornell Sprint Football traveled down to northern Pennsylvania to face the Mansfield Mounties for their season opener of the 2021 season. Looking to improve from their 2019 record of 1-5, the Red had high hopes to start their season off on a better note against the Mounties.
In Saturday’s game, the Red felt the rust of not having played in more than a year and a half. After being forced to punt on a 4th and 17 from Mansfield territory, a low snap and muffed recovery was recovered in the end zone by Mansfield, for a wild, early 7-0 deficit.
Two offensive drives later, the Red, after forcing a second straight punt from the Mansfield offense, were given a pair of strong runs from junior Jacob Wynkoop, setting up Cornell at the seven yard line. Unable to find the endzone after a 3rd down holding call, sophomore Spencer Katz drilled a 32-yard field goal through the uprights, bringing the score closer, at 7-3.
“It was super fun. I played soccer all throughout high school, but I had never played football,” Katz said of his first regular season game. “So it was a pretty neat feeling to actually play football, it felt like a pretty cool capstone to my athletic journey.”
In approaching the field goal itself, Katz emphasized that repetition and preparation were key. “Kicking is so much about repetition. I just did my normal three steps back, and then some to the side and got ready and kicked it.”
Unfortunately for the Red, the punting woes continued, as a fumbled snap was yet again taken into the Cornell end zone for Mansfield’s second touchdown in just as many quarters.
From there on out, the Red lost their footing. Despite a strong defensive showing for most of the first half, Mansfield quarterback Cahsid Raymond found the end zone practically untouched on a 75 yard run on a read option. After a Cornell three-and-out and quick punt, Raymond again found the end zone, connecting on a 50 yard deep pass on the run, widening the score to 28-3 just two minutes later.
Allowing these big plays transformed into a big storyline for the Cornell defense. Although solid in most short-yard scenarios, the Red would continue to allow big plays from the Mansfield offense early in their drives, including another 61 yard run on a designed quarterback keeper on the first play of their second drive of the third quarter. Four minutes later, the Mounties would complete an 83 yard touchdown pass on 3rd and 10 to increase the score to 45-3.
Head Coach Bob Gneo was not worried about his defense beyond the big plays, but said the team will strive to be more disciplined in the future.
“We had a holding penalty and an offsides penalty that pushed us back and it’s difficult to overcome a 1st and 20 or a 2nd and 15 anytime like that especially against a good team like Mansfield,” he said. “We just have to play more disciplined, you know, right now we have to play almost perfect to do well.”
The loss of starting quarterback Xavier Martinez ‘23 to a hip injury early in the second half also served to stall the Red’s offensive attack.
With six total turnovers on the day, the Red will be thankful for their upcoming week off to sharpen up before they host Caldwell University at home on Friday, Oct. 1. However, Coach Gneo is optimistic about their next matchup.
“We have to take care of the little things — the little mistakes that we made. I’m not really down at all because we played a pretty good game, with the exception of the big plays and some mistakes we made on offense. If we clean those things up against Caldwell we’ll be very competitive,” Gneo said.
Katz agreed that by cleaning up their game, the team could be competitive — especially on home soil.
“We’re very capable, and we just need to get stuff down, and I feel the best way to get there is repetition and practice. I’m feeling very optimistic for this next game,” Katz said. “I think we just need to practice what we had miscues on in the first game, and I think we’ll be very prepared. And just having that home environment with our friends and more family members at the game is exciting.”