Through its first four games, Cornell was scoring just 14.5 points per game and had posted an offensive efficiency of 95.8, both last in the Ivy League. Sitting with an 0-4 record, the Red needed a turnaround.
On Friday night against Colgate, the offense finally came to life. With a three-quarterback rotation consisting of fifth-year Richie Kenney, freshman Jameson Wang and sophomore Luke Duby, the Red overpowered Colgate en route to its first victory, 34-20.
Cornell’s (1-4, 0-2 Ivy League) offense started off slow, going three-and-out on its first drive. On third down, Head Coach David Archer ’05 inserted freshman quarterback Jameson Wang, whose pitch to freshman running back Eddy Tillman fell short of the line to gain. Archer previously utilized Wang for a couple plays against Harvard, but the first-year had a much bigger evening as part of the Red’s new QB rotation.
“We learned that we were all going to get playing time and that we were going to go with the hot hand,” Kenney said. “There was one goal this week, and that was to win — whatever it looked like.”
While the transitioning of quarterbacks throughout the game can create tension or uncomfortability for teams, that was not the case for the Red.
“Sometimes it’s awkward when you have to switch off,” Duby added. “But I think for us, we have a great relationship.”
The Raiders (2-5, 2-0 Patriot League) gained greater ground on their opening drive. Relying on the legs of running back Max Hurleman as well as the quarterback duo of Michael Brescia and Harry Kirk, Colgate converted on several third-down opportunities and worked its way into Cornell territory. The Red buckled down on defense, though, forcing a 4th-and-8 from the Cornell 32-yard line. On the play, junior safety Jalyx Hunt applied great pressure, hurrying Kirk to force an incomplete pass.
In a more desirable field position by forcing a turnover on downs, Cornell quickly went to work. Wang and Kenney rotated in and out throughout the drive, much like Brescia and Kirk did for Colgate. With the rotation, the Red’s offense looked crisp, continually picking up chunk gains on the ground and through the air.
“We needed a spark,” Archer said, speaking about the new QB rotation. “We had not scored in the first quarter, and we weren’t putting up the amount of points we thought we could. It wasn’t a blame-game scenario on any one player but that [QB rotation] is noticeable. The other rotations aren’t as noticeable. A lot of guys rotate in at different positions, but you notice it when it’s three different quarterbacks.”
Cornell navigated the ball down to the goal line, and on second-and-goal, Wang, attempting his first career pass, found sophomore tight end Matt Robbert in the end zone, marking the freshman’s first career touchdown. On the grab, Robbert also recorded his first career reception and touchdown.
“I knew I was going to get some opportunities when we got closer to the red zone,” Wang said. “I stayed after practice working on those plays so I could really get them down.”
That touchdown put the Red up, 7-0, but that lead quickly evaporated. On the ensuing kickoff, Colgate defensive back William Gruber took the return all the way to the house down the left sideline, knotting the game at seven apiece.
On Cornell’s next drive, Archer inserted another new face from the QB room: sophomore Luke Duby. The Red looked like it was heading toward another three-and-out, but a pass interference penalty assessed against Colgate on third-and-long kept the drive alive.
The very next play saw Duby find senior wide receiver Thomas Glover, who took it down the sideline for a 47-yard gain before being tripped up at the Colgate 18-yard line. That play brought about the end of the first quarter, and at the beginning of the next frame, Wang sprinted in for another touchdown — this one from 18 yards out. With that score, Cornell went back on top, 14-7.
The Red’s defense then denied the Raiders a chance to tie it up, forcing a three-and-out. Cornell’s offense, looking reinvigorated, continued to pound the ball down Colgate’s throat. Senior running back Devon Brewer and freshman running back Eddy Tillman both picked up first downs to move into Raiders territory.
“We had to focus on high energy and taking care of the football,” Kenney said. “I think both the offense and defense feeding off each other’s energy was why today was able to be so special.”
After an illegal formation penalty, the Red faced a 1st-and-15 from the Colgate 34-yard line. Duby didn’t just pick up a first down on the next play, rather he rumbled all the way to the end zone. On a 34-yard rush, the Lexington, Kentucky, native broke several tackles and the plane, lifting Cornell to a 21-7 lead while also notching his first career touchdown. By scoring three touchdowns, the team matched its previous season-high in points, which came in the first game against Virginia Military Institute, all while doing so in the first half.
“If you would have told me my first touchdown would have been a 30-or-whatever-it-was rushing touchdown, I would have said you’re lying,” Duby said. “I’m a passer. Everybody knows that, but it was really exciting.”
Before Colgate’s next drive could pick up any steam, sophomore linebacker Holt Fletcher came in for a big sack on Brescia, moving the Raiders back five yards. Colgate could not convert on third-and-long, giving the ball back to the Red.
Having scored a touchdown on its previous three drives, Cornell added another tally to the scoreboard. This time around, Kenney and Wang alternated, driving the ball down to the goal line. Penalties pushed the Red back, setting up a third-and-goal all the way from the 24-yard line.
Undaunted, Kenney heaved a dime into the end zone, connecting with senior wide receiver Curtis Raymond III for the score. At this point, Cornell had rotated in three different quarterbacks — Kenney, Wang and Duby — all of whom scored at least one touchdown. Each of them split time under center, and they combined to lead four consecutive touchdown drives without turnovers, reviving an offense that was mostly dormant in its first four games.
Colgate finally mustered a response before the half. On a drive plagued by penalties — including one that saw fifth-year cornerback Kenan Clarke ejected for targeting — the Raiders found the end zone as Kirk’s 43-yard completion to wide receiver Garrett Oakey was followed by a one-yard plunge from Brescia. With the clock dwindling, Cornell kept its offense on the field and nearly scored on a hail mary completion from Kenney to fifth-year wide receiver Alex Kuzy. Kuzy was short of the goal line, though, so the Red took a 28-14 lead into halftime.
By the end of the game, Cornell racked up 479 total yards of offense. The most evident improvement on offense came in the ground game. Cornell’s highest rushing total through its first four games stood at just 103 yards, which was against Harvard. On Friday night, the Red blew that number out of the water, more than doubling it to the tune of 241 rushing yards.
“I think for us as offense, we had a tough time running the ball and getting that spark in the first few weeks,” Wang said. “Us rushing for [over] 200 yards is amazing. If we’re rushing the ball like that, it opens up the passing game for [the receivers] as well.”
The Cornell defense made an immediate statement to start the half. In a similar fashion to its first drive, Colgate drove into Red territory and faced a fourth down. On 4th-and-5, Kirk’s pass for Myles Bradley was tipped and fifth-year safety Logan Thut came up with the interception. Thut didn’t stop there, though, taking the ball 82 yards for a pick-six, the fourth-longest interception return in program history. After a botched hold on the PAT, Cornell’s lead stood at 34-14.
“I used to play running back in high school — believe it or not — so I missed that feeling of running with the ball in my hands,” Thut said. “I’m glad it was a long one. I enjoyed every second of that, and I got to do that again.”
Other than the pick-six, both teams were quiet in the third quarter as neither could score on offense. Cornell forced Colgate to punt twice, denying the Raiders an opportunity to generate any positive momentum.
The fourth quarter followed a similar script. The Red kept the ball away from Colgate and slowly whittled the clock away. In the waning minutes of the fourth, Colgate added a touchdown in garbage time, but the outcome was never in doubt.
“At the end of the day, we know we’re a good team and that we’re better than that 0-4 record we had,” Thut said. “It’s good to get one in the win column, but I think that this is going to push us and motivate us into this stretch of Ivy League play, which is really big. We’re looking to make some statements.”
Cornell will look to keep rolling as it dives into the last five conference games of the season. The first of those will take place next Saturday at Schoellkopf Field as the Red hosts Brown. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.