This post has been updated.
After enduring a season filled with struggles, Cornell had the opportunity to bookend the year on a positive note for its seniors on Senior Day, move up two spots in the Ivy League standings and propel the program into the next season.
On Saturday, the Red raced ahead of the Lions, taking a 13-0 lead early in the second quarter. But Cornell could not maintain its success from the first quarter. Columbia outscored the Red, 34-13, the rest of the way. Despite a last-ditch, hard-fought comeback attempt by Cornell, Columbia ultimately prevailed, 34-26. Picked to finish eighth in the pre-season Ivy League poll, the Red finished in a three-way tie for last place along with Penn (3-7, 1-6 Ivy League) and Brown (2-8, 1-6).
Emotions ran high on Saturday with the Senior Day celebration taking place prior to kickoff. Each senior — including the 51 fifth-years and fourth-years — were honored on the field along with their loved ones.
“We took it all amongst ourselves as seniors to come out here and really give it all we got,” said senior running back Devon Brewer. “This was less of an individual thing, but as a collective, this would be our last game together, and we wanted to play together, so that was really important.”
The Red (2-8, 1-6 Ivy League) channeled those emotions into points early on. After winning the toss, Cornell opted to receive, a decision that paid dividends after an impressive first drive.
Fifth-year quarterback Richie Kenney got things going as he completed a pair of passes to fifth-year wide receiver Alex Kuzy with targets, and the Raleigh, North Carolina native picked up two first downs.
Brewer then took control as the team approached the red zone. Handling a pitch from freshman quarterback Jameson Wang, Brewer picked up a big 26-yard gain to move the Red inside the 10-yard line. Following a six-yard rush by Wang, Brewer hit paydirt from two yards out to put Cornell up 7-0. Brewer ultimately finished the day with a career-high 87 rushing yards and that touchdown.
“As a team collectively, we ran the ball great, we passed the ball great, [and we made] little throws here and there and then gashed them up the middle,” Brewer said.
The energy carried over to the defense on Columbia’s (7-3, 4-3) first possession on offense. Cornell forced a three-and-out and appeared to generate a fumble off a third-down reception by Lions wide receiver Jack Ertz, but the play was ultimately ruled incomplete, resulting in a Corlumbia punt.
Cornell’s next drive stalled, and Columbia took over in favorable field position because placekicker Scott Lees was called to handle punting duties in the absence of the normal starter and senior punter Koby Kiefer.
While the Lions received nice field position, the Red quickly erased that advantage, forcing a fumble on third down that senior linebacker Christoph Sontich. Taking over near midfield, the Red immediately went to work as Wang ripped a 24-yard run to open the drive.
On the next play, Kenney connected with Kuzy once more to place Cornell in the red zone. Ultimately, the Red settled for a 25-yard field goal by Lees.
The Red’s defense smothered the Lions again, and used two enormous chunk gains to set up another field goal by Lees. Fifth-year running back SK Howard got the fun started with a 30-yard rumble past midfield, and then sophomore tight end corralled a pass from Wang and turned it into a 30-yard gain as well. Lees converted from 31 yards out at the beginning of the second quarter to make it a 13-0 game.
“I think if we had gotten scores instead of field goals, they would have stopped and did the same thing they did two years ago,” said head coach David Archer ’05. “We let them hang around.”
Cornell’s performance in the first quater was exemplary was it out-gained Columbia 195-21 in total yards and also recorded nine first downs, in comparison to the Lions’ total of just one conversion.
But while the Red was near-perfect in the first 15 minutes, the team did not maintain that same level of play through a large portion of the second quarter. Self-inflicted mistakes began to rear their ugly head for the Red. First, it was allowing Columbia’s secondary quarterback to bruise through the field for a massive 37-yard gain to midfield.
From there, a pass interference and personal foul penalty put the defense’s back to the wall. Columbia quarterback Joe Green threw several incompletions, though, and Lions kicker Alex Felkins came out for a 41-yard attempt, which he kicked through to cut Cornell’s lead to 13-3.
On the very next drive, the Red gave the ball right back. Kenney threw an interception squarely into the arms of Columbia linebacker Cameron Brown, gifting the Lions with prime field position. The defense buckled down again, making Columbia settle for another Felkins field goal to narrow the deficit to seven at 13-6.
The turnover woes only continued for the Red. Wang was leading a solid drive that passed midfield, but he badly underthrew senior wide receiver Thomas Glover, giving the ball back to Columbia for the second time of the afternoon. Fortunately for Cornell, Green had little-to-nothing to work with, which resulted in another punt.
Senior quarterback Ben Mays entered as the Red’s third signal caller, but nothing materialized on the drive as Cornell went three-and-out. A 21-yard punt return by wide receiver Mike Roussos set Columbia up in Cornell territory and the Lions finally found the end zone as Green connected with receiver Will Meyers for a 29-yard scoring strike, tying the game at 13 apiece.
Shortly after, the Red committed its third turnover in the second quarter with Mays being picked off by Ben Mathiasmeyer. Two 15-yard penalties pushed Columbia back into its territory, where the Lions could not muster any offense. Cornell’s ensuing two-minute drill sucked all of the time out of the clock before the Red could cross midfield.
“The turnovers are just killers,” Archer said. “It’s hard to overcome.”
The second quarter was an ugly display by both squads as they combined for 12 penalties in the frame alone. Whereas the Red only sustained a single penalty in the first quarter, Cornell lost 70 crucial yards on five infractions in the second quarter. This, combined with the three interceptions by Kenney, Wang and Mays, defeated any hope of offensive production from the Red.
While Columbia didn’t fully capitalize off the turnovers, it knotted the contest and now was receiving the second-half kickoff. The Lions kept their foot on the gas. On a key third down, wide receiver Marcus Libman and senior safety Isaiah Hogan was making contact on a pass Hogan broke up, but the officials called pass interference.
Dante Miller, who entered the day as the leading Ivy League rusher with 771 yards, had been mostly quiet up to this point as the Cornell defense shut down the Lions’ stout rushing attack. This time, though, Miller broke through after the pass interference penalty, taking a carry 42 yards to the house and giving Columbia its first lead, 20-13.
The Lions kept the Red bottled up and took over after another Cornell punt. Having sputtered for the last 15 minutes, the Red desperately needed someone to make a play. Fifth-year captain and linebacker Lance Blass answered the call, coming up with a crucial interception off a pass by Green.
“It was an RPO, I got a run read, and I was fortunate enough to be at the right place at the right time to pick the ball,” Blass said. “That felt so good. I thought it was a pivotal time in the game when were getting back into it when we didn’t have the lead.”
Now right outside the red zone, Cornell moved itself back 15 yards as Wang absorbed a sack and a failed keeper. Kenney regained some of those yards on a completion to Kuzy, and Lees kicked his third field goal of the evening, this one from 41 yards out to make it a 20-16 deficit.
Having regained its footing, the Red’s defense contained Green and co. and retook possession. Kenney and Brewer engineered a nice drive, slowly picking apart the Columbia defense. Cornell ultimately stalled in the red zone, and Lees nailed his fourth field goal of the game, which tied the program record for most field goals made in a game.
“Scott would be the first one to tell you he’d rather kick an extra point than a field goal, but when we had to settle for field goals, he kept us in the game by knocking them down,” Archer said.
Unfortunately, the Red continued to shoot itself in the foot, committing another pair of 15-yard penalties. Columbia took advantage as running back Ryan Young grinded out 18 yards and Green found Luke Painton for a 13-yard gain to the Cornell 2-yard line. Quarterback Gabriel Hollingsworth then found the end zone to open the fourth quarter and extend the Lions’ lead to 27-19.
Right when it could have responded to tie the game, the Red instead turned it over. Kenney threw his second interception of the day to Will Allen, and the defensive back weaved his way in and out of traffic for a big return to the Cornell 11-yard line. Then on third down, Green found wide receiver Bryson Canty in the end zone, who hauled in the touchdown on an impressive one-handed grab. Columbia possessed a 34-19 lead early in the fourth quarter and had outscored Cornell, 34-6, since the Red took a 13-0 lead.
With Cornell’s offense stuck in the mud, the Red failed to put a dent in the 15-point deficit. Wang threw an interception in the end zone with about five minutes remaining, marking Cornell fifth’s pick of the contest.
Despite being down, the Red still fought in the final minutes. Mays lead his team down the field and capped off the drive with a nice throw to senior wide receiver Curtis Raymond III for a 23-yard touchdown. Following the extra point, Cornell was down one possession at 34-26.
Unfortunately for the Red, the ensuing onside kick was recovered by Columbia, and after the Lions secured the first down, they ran down the clock.
“We had ourselves a dogfight today like many games this season,” Blass said. “Obviously, we weren’t able to get the result we wanted in the end, but I’m really proud of my teammates, my coaches and my best friends I played the game with today … Even scoring and going for the onside kick, the guys never stopped fighting, and that’s been the case all season long. I’m just so proud to be a part of this group.”
Columbia secured the victory and handed Cornell its eighth loss of the year, a disappointing ending to a season that saw the Red land back in the cellar of the Ivy League.