The excitement was real at Schoellkopf Field on Friday when Sprint Football hosted its first home game in two years against the Caldwell University Cougars. The Red was coming off a tough start to the season, when it lost 48-3 on the road against Mansfield University on Sept. 18. The team looked to flip the script in front of the Cornell faithful and secure an even 1-1 record. However, they were unable to convert on their goal, dropping the game against the Cougars 32-12.
The Red received the opening kickoff, and came out of the gate strong, moving the chains with ease against the Caldwell defense. The Red was able to mix in both the passing and rushing game, recording multiple rushes of 10 or more yards on the drive. However, after reaching a goal-to-go opportunity, the offense stalled, leading to a field goal attempt. Despite it being a chip shot opportunity, a well-timed leap by a Cougar defender led to the kick being blocked by his helmet, and the Red failed to score on its opening drive.
After taking over possession following the blocked field goal, it appeared that the Cougars’ offensive drive would be very similar to the Red’s, as they initially had no trouble moving the ball downfield. Caldwell quarterback Frank DeMaio showed no fear slinging the ball or taking on the Red’s defense himself on rushes. The big play on the drive came on a 1st and 10 play on the Cornell 25, when a rushing attempt to the left side was quickly blown up, with the ball being punched out and recovered by the Red. This defensive sturdiness, particularly in the Red’s ability to force turnovers, was not prevalent in their opening game of the year.
The tide began to turn against the Red following the fumble recovery, as it went three and out on the ensuing offensive possession. This led to the Red’s first punt attempt of the game, an aspect of their game they struggled with against Mansfield. Their woes continued against Caldwell, as the long snap went flying over freshman punter Tommy Kubicka’s head, rolling toward the Red’s endzone. With the Cougar special teams unit quickly closing in, Kubicka was forced to kick the ball out of the back of the endzone, resulting in a safety.
“We’re very inconsistent, it’s just two positions,” Head Coach Bob Gneo said of the team’s issues with punting. “We’re trying different people at it, so it sits on top of the list of things to do every day in practice.”
Caldwell began to take control of the game in the second quarter, as the Red was unable to get anything going on offense. Following a turnover on downs, the Cougars recorded their first touchdown of the game when DeMaio found wide receiver Nadir Orsini on a seam route for a 26-yard score. The game went to half with the Cougars ahead of the Red 9-0.
The gap quickly widened in the third quarter, when Caldwell found the endzone on its opening drive of the half — a two-yard rush put the Cougars up 15-0. After another three-and-out from the Red, the punting unit had another botched play, this time being blocked by the Cougars. After the Red was unable to secure the ball, the Cougars pounced on it, making the recovery in the endzone for another touchdown. Caldwell added to their lead with another rushing score that put them up by a commanding 29-0.
The Red found their first bright spot at the end of the third quarter when junior quarterback Xavier Martinez hit Evan Nicholas on a slant pass. Nicholas torched the Cougar defense up the middle, making a house call on a 71-yard touchdown. A botched snap on the extra point attempt made the score 29-6 at the end of the third quarter.
The Red found the endzone one more time in the fourth quarter, as Martinez and Nicholas connected for their second score of the game. The Cougars added a field goal in the final 15 minutes en route to a 32-12 victory.
The Red’s next matchup, when the team travels to Philadelphia for their annual game against Penn on Friday, Oct. 8, is one of the most important of the season..
“It’s the biggest game of the year because they’re our archrivals — the one game we want to win every year is versus Penn,” said Gneo. “I have complete confidence in the players — our effort is always there. So we’ll continue to do what we do and just keep getting better every day. That’s our goal.”