Following a demoralizing 41-7 loss to Dartmouth on Saturday, Cornell football will end its season this weekend against Columbia with the hopes of moving up to 6th place in the Ivy League and sending out its large senior class on a positive note on Senior Day.
Against Dartmouth, the Red never left the gates while the Big Green raced far ahead. The game quickly got out of hand by the first half, and Dartmouth only poured it on in the latter frame with quarterback Nick Howard carving up Cornell on the ground to the tune of 172 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
“Dartmouth is good — we also helped them when we didn’t need to,” said Head Coach David Archer ’05. “We didn’t play a push-crack block the way we should have … or we had two guys shooting up the A gap and B gap and the C gap is open. We didn’t help the cause, and so if we clean that up in the gap scheme run — which Columbia will do as well — we will play much better.”
After seeing his defense torn apart by the relentless Dartmouth attack, fifth-year linebacker and senior captain Lance Blass said that the emphasis in practice will be solidifying the fundamentals.
“When you don’t have the performance that you want, there’s a lot of different ways you can reflect and say ‘this went wrong, this went wrong,’” Blass said. “But at the end of the day, we weren’t able to execute the core fundamentals of what we want to do. … Rather than going into great details and doing all these crazy things, I think this week is really about going to our basics and the things we have been able to execute when we do have success.”
Saturday’s contest will carry extra significance for the Red as the team honors its 51 seniors — 21 fifth-years and 30 fourth-years — to close out the season.
“It’s really crazy,” Blass said. “You come in here with about 30 guys in your class, and you become really close with them and … you just form lifelong relationships because you’re just bonded through the experiences that you go through together.”
For some seniors, the prospect of playing in their final collegiate game has not fully set in.
“It hasn’t hit that this is going to be last week,” said fifth-year quarterback Richie Kenney. “I’m sure those feelings will set in more Saturday.”
In order to achieve a victory in the season finale, the Red (2-7, 1-5 Ivy League) will have to knock off a Columbia (6-3, 3-3) team that has experienced both highs and lows this year. The peak for the Lions’ season took place in Hanover, New Hampshire with a 19-0 shutout over Dartmouth. Subsequent losses to Yale and Harvard effectively ended Columbia’s Ivy title hopes, though.
“I think it’s going to be a real challenge on Saturday,” Archer said. “When they play well, they don’t show any weakness. But knowing their inconsistency, I know there are ways to attack.”
In the Empire State Bowl two years ago, the Red rocketed off to a lead and never looked back. On the second play of the game, then-senior running back Harold Coles burst through a gap for a 58-yard touchdown to kick off the scoring for Cornell.
From there, Cornell remained in total control as it secured a 35-9 victory. The Red will hope to channel a similar performance against the Lions this week.
“From the minute Harold Coles ripped that long run off, you knew we had the opposite of what we had at Dartmouth — it was like, ‘Oh, we got the juice,’” Archer said. “Just to be able to come out and have a day where our seniors feel victorious and have it be their last memory is big for them, and then to have that be our springboard into the offseason — it’s like our leadoff game for 2022.”
For Blass and Kenney, the football program stands out to them thanks to the close relationships they developed with their teammates both on and off the field.
“[It’s] the brotherhood and the friends that I’ll have for a lifetime,” Kenney said. “No matter what happens in life, I have guys that I can give a call, and I know they’ll be there for me in a heartbeat. I think the relationships is what’s most special about this place.”
Before the team faces Columbia on Saturday, Blass will have the opportunity to address his team and deliver one final message, which shares a similar sentiment to Kenney.
“At the end of the day, what you really end up gaining from an experience like this are the relationships, those memories and experiences that we have on a daily basis. I want to express my gratitude in being a part of that,” he said.
Archer complimented the vast group of seniors on their perseverance and grit in navigating difficult times.
“They held it together through the pandemic — when you have 21 kids come back, that’s a great sign,” Archer said. “They’ve managed some really adverse circumstances from the pandemic and from our own institutional situations. That’s hard, and so I think they’ve done a great job of persevering through, showing up each day and coming back under some adverse conditions.”
Cornell will honor its seniors and close out its season this Saturday. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at Schoellkopf Field.