Jason Wu/Sun Staff Photographer

Kick returner Javonni Cunningham fields a kickoff against Princeton.

October 29, 2021

Slow Start and Early Turnovers Sink Football in Friday Night Loss to Princeton

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Cornell and Princeton were both coming off emotional highs from last weekend. For the Red, the team suffered a last-second 49-45 shootout loss to Brown. Meanwhile, Princeton prevailed in five overtimes over Harvard. 

With Cornell still winless in Ivy League play, a win over undefeated Princeton would serve as the perfect way to spoil a top contender’s season and make some progress up the Ivy League standings. Unfortunately, that upset was not in the cards for the Red on Friday. 

Early turnovers by Cornell and resulting touchdowns off those turnovers allowed Princeton to race out to a 21-0 lead by the early part of the second quarter. The Red’s offense struggled mightily against the Tigers as it could not make up the deficit, falling 34-16 to Princeton.  

Fifth-year quarterback Richie Kenney drew the start, but freshman quarterback Jameson Wang got the offense moving. On the first third-down opportunity of the game, Wong ripped a 24-yard run to break into Princeton territory.

Though the drive started with promise, it ultimately did not amount to anything for the Red, as Wang’s rush attempt on a QB keep fell short of the line on fourth down, giving the ball to Princeton.

Head Coach David Archer ’05 prioritized scoring first and building an early lead, especially with rain in the forecast later in the evening. 

“It was important to score first,” Archer said. “Having won the toss, I was like we have to take the ball because if this rain comes, it’s going to be important to have the lead. And it couldn’t have worked out any worse in terms of the game plan I was hoping to execute.”

The Tigers did not waste time in putting points on the board. Princeton senior quarterback Cole Smith, coming off a four-interception performance against Harvard a week prior, rotated with different quarterbacks throughout the drive, including sophomore Blake Stenstrom and freshman Niko Vangarelli. It was the freshman who delivered the first strike for the Tigers as Vangarelli punched it in from the three-yard line to put Princeton up 7-0. 

Princeton scored on the next possession, too, even as the Red took over on offense. Princeton linebacker Matthew Jester forced a fumble on freshman running back Eddy Tillman. Jeremiah Tyler was there to scoop and score, recovering the fumble and returning it for a touchdown, doubling Princeton’s lead to 14. 

“In the end, we started out a little bit too slow,” said junior linebacker Jake Stebbins. “We gave them too much to start with, and they ended up doing too much for us to come back.”

Cornell, which had done a great job recently in limiting its turnovers — only recording one in its last three games — saw the issue reappear. The next giveaway came on a Kenney pass with the Red approaching midfield. On a pass intended for fifth-year wide receiver Alex Kuzy, the ball went off the receiver’s hands and landed in the palms of Princeton linebacker Daniel Beard.

Again, the Tigers converted off the turnover. Princeton continually gashed Cornell’s run defense, routinely picking up chunk gains and ultimately notching 41 rushing yards on the drive alone. The effort culminated in a 10-yard touchdown pass from Smith to tight end Carson Bobo, extending Princeton’s lead, 21-0, early in the second quarter. 

“The mistakes we made just compounded too big,” Archer said. “The beta factor of those plays became 21-scratch by the time second quarter just started. It became tough, but not insurmountable.” 

Despite facing a big deficit, Cornell fought back. Kenney catalyzed the effort on the first play of the drive, nailing a 39-yard deep throw to senior wide receiver Curtis Raymond III to advance the Red into Princeton territory. Kenney completed two more passes — to senior wide receiver Thomas Glover and Kuzy — to move Cornell into the red zone.

Negative plays and a 15-yard penalty moved the Red back to the 19-yard line for third-and-goal, but Wang found a way to score, delivering a beautiful pass to Kuzy to put Cornell on the board, 21-7. 

“That play wasn’t supposed to go to him, but when you don’t get the look you want, you just have to make something happen,” Wang said. “Kuzy stayed alive for me and won on his little fade route, and we were able to put it right in the basket.”

Princeton’s offense kept churning, though. Senior running back Colin Eaddy broke through the Red’s line with relative ease, picking up chunk gains. Smith completed a 44-yard pass to Andrei Iosivas, who was left wide open in the secondary. Cornell’s defense buckled down, halting the Tigers in the red zone and forcing a field goal from kicker Jeffrey Sexton. 

That score gave Princeton a 24-7 lead, but the Red responded with three points of its own on the ensuing drive. Kenney and Wang led the drive, but it stalled outside the red zone. Wang missed a wide-open Kuzy on first down, and Kenney’s two subsequent pass attempts fell incomplete, which brought senior kicker Scott Lees on for a successful 36-yard field goal. 

Princeton reclaimed the 17-point edge before the half, though, running a two-minute drill to break into field goal range. Sexton came out for a 40-yard field goal attempt, and he split the uprights to give Princeton a 27-10 lead at halftime. 

Having kept its foot on the gas pedal throughout the entire first half, Princeton kept applying pressure to kick off the third quarter. Smith wasted no time in starting the action, finding wide receiver Dylan Classi for a 67-yard gain before he was tackled just shy of the goal line by senior cornerback Michael Irons. The Tigers still scored as Vangarelli added another rushing touchdown, making it 34-10 in favor of Princeton. 

With the rain now coming down, Cornell proceeded to whiff on its next three drives in quarter, stalling out at midfield on each attempt. Kenney struggled to connect with receivers, and the same running lanes that Wang found against prior opponents were not there on Friday night. Princeton’s defense stymied the Red, only allowing 56 total yards during the third quarter. 

“Their interior D-linemen are really good. That’s probably the best D-line we have played this year,” Wang said. “These guys were coming off blocks and making plays. We had good drives, but we just didn’t finish.”

Though a win was out of sight, the Red did not give up. Midway through the fourth quarter, Kenney and the offense finally got out of the mud. Kenney displayed a great rapport with Glover, connecting with him on 71 of the drive’s 73 yards. Glover ultimately found the end zone on a 24-yard reception and went over 100 receiving yards for his third game of the season. While the two-point conversion failed, the final outcome was not in doubt. 

Cornell hopes to bounce back next weekend as it travels to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to face Penn.