After three straight losses to start the season, Cornell Sprint Football was determined to leave week four with a win. Facing Saint Thomas Aquinas College (1-3) in a game originally scheduled for Saturday but moved to Sunday due to rain, the Red had another chance to claim victory. Despite a rocky start to the game, the team was able to rally, coming back from a 17 point deficit in the fourth quarter to win 30-27. With this win, the Red improved to 1-3 on the season. This marks the team’s first victory since September 14, 2019, against Alderson Broaddus.
Similar to its previous games, the Red started off strong in the first quarter, having success moving the ball up and down the field. They started scoring at the end of the first quarter, when junior running back Jacob Wynkoop plunged into the endzone from two yards out to put Cornell up 7-0. However, the narrative appeared to be following that of previous games when the St. Thomas’ offense began to heat up in the second quarter. The Red’s defense had no answer for freshman quarterback Dennis Riordan, as he tore down the field for two scores in the second quarter. The two Spartan touchdown drives combined for 146 yards, with the second starting on their own 10 yard line. The Red was able to convert on a field goal as time expired in the half, and went into the locker room down 14-10.
The third quarter was all Spartans, as they continued to build off their momentum from the first half. Riordan threw for two more touchdowns, putting St. Thomas at 27 points on the day. Riordan ended the day throwing 26/37, with 318 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. On the flip side, the Red was unable to get anything going on offense, putting up a goose egg for the quarter. The ground game provided some encouragement, as Wynkoop ended up averaging 9.8 yards per carry on the day, but they were unable to put points on the board. Heading to the fourth quarter, it appeared that the Red were all but finished, down 27-10.
However, everything clicked for the Red in the fourth quarter. The Red started off the closing period with a 14 play drive that culminated in a eight-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Xavier Martinez to freshman wide receiver Evan Nicholas. With a resurgence in the offense came staunch play from the defense, which forced punts on the Spartans’ next two offense drives. Overall, Head Coach Bob Gneo was impressed with how his defense was able to perform despite the injuries they have suffered.
“We had a number of injuries on the defensive side so a lot of the players who started this week played for the first time or played in a position they hadn’t played on a regular basis,” Gneo said. “So I give a lot of credit to the coaches for getting them ready…we talk about practicing as if you’re a starter and not practicing as if you’re a backup, and they really kept us in the game.”
This was all Martinez and the offense needed, as they put together two more strong drives, each resulting in six points. Junior Nate Roy rushed for a two yard touchdown and Martinez connected with junior receiver Luke Verzella to put the Red up for good. The Spartans had one final chance to tie or take the lead in the game with 4 minutes left in the quarter, but a crucial sack on a 4th and 2 play from the Cornell 45 yard line was the nail in the coffin. The Red walked away with its first win of the season, by a score of 30-27. Wynkoop finished the game with 226 yards on the ground, putting him inside the top 10 for all time rushing performance in Cornell Sprint Football history.
Halftime adjustments proved key as well to igniting the Cornell offense. “We started to keep an extra guy in for protection and did more crossing routes than we normally do,” Gneo said. “When Xavier has time, we can get open and we can throw the ball, so the offensive line plus another back did a great job giving him protection in the fourth quarter.”
The Red will hope to use the momentum from its first win of the season this Friday, when the team travels to Annapolis to take on Navy, the defending sprint football champions.