Jason Wu/Sun Assistant Photography Editor

A late goal-line stand gave the Red a 17-13 win.

November 12, 2022

Davon Kiser’s 91-Yard Kickoff Return Touchdown Highlights a Thrilling Win Against Dartmouth

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This story has been updated.

On a day when football was honoring its seniors, a freshman made the biggest play of the day. Down by six late in the third quarter, wide receiver Davon Kiser made a house call on a 91-yard kickoff return touchdown. The first in 11 years for Cornell, it boosted the team to a 17-13 win.

The Red (5-4, 2-4 Ivy) was coming off of a one score loss against Penn. Dartmouth (2-7, 1-5 Ivy) lost a close 17-14 game to Princeton last week.

Cornell started the game on defense, forcing a quick three-and-out. Starting its first drive at its own 32, sophomore quarterback Jameson Wang came out firing, completing an 18-yard pass to junior wide receiver Nicholas Laboy on the first play from scrimmage.

A series of successful running plays put the Red in Dartmouth territory, but on a 4th and 5 from the Dartmouth 32, Wang’s pass went incomplete.

The Red’s defense was stingy throughout the contest, forcing punts on the Big Green’s first two drives. Set up at its own 16 for its second drive, the Cornell offense came to life.

The Red embarked on a drive that encapsulated its offensive strategy – running a high volume of plays and holding the ball. The 15-play, 84-yard drive took more than eight minutes off the game clock. Mixing the ground and air games, it was sophomore running back Robert Tucker III punching it into the endzone from one yard out – the first score of his collegiate career.

“The best part of my job is watching the team make plays on Saturday,” said head coach David Archer ’05. “To see them do something they love successfully – it’s awesome.”

The Dartmouth offense was quick to respond, however, firing back with an 11-play, 75-yard drive. The drive was highlighted by a trick play touchdown pass, with running back Noah Roper throwing it to a wide open Jarmone Sutherland. A missed extra point kept Cornell ahead 7-6.

Both teams struggled to generate offense for the remainder of the first half. The best opportunity came on Dartmouth’s last drive of the second quarter, when it started at the Cornell 31. 

Despite starting on the other side of the 50, the Red’s defense stood tall, as a tackle for loss on first down by junior safety Brody Kidwell and a pass deflection on fourth down by senior defensive lineman Wallace Squibb Jr. kept Dartmouth from scoring. Cornell went into halftime leading by one.

Penalties proved to be a factor from the get-go in the second half. After a promising start to its opening drive, the Red had consecutive penalties – a holding and a false start – that put it in a 2nd and 22 situation. Unable to overcome the setback, Cornell was forced to punt.

After stalling on its first drive, the Big Green found success through the air on its second. Starting on its own 34, quarterback Nick Howard completed passes of 24, 18 and 22 yards en route to a quick touchdown drive. For the first time, the Big Green had a lead.

Dartmouth was able to enjoy its lead for 12 seconds before Kiser provided the keynote. Thundering up the Cornell sideline, he outran the entire Big Green coverage team to put the Red back up by one.

“That was huge, that was basically a punch right back in the mouth,” Kiser said. “They hit us and we hit them right back, so that was definitely huge for the game.”

The momentum swing was evident, and after the ensuing Dartmouth three-and-out, the Red went back on the attack. Wang connected with junior tight end Matt Robbert for 22 yards to break into Big Green territory. Cornell was forced to settle for a field goal, upping its lead to four.

After forcing another Dartmouth punt, it appeared that the Red held all the momentum. But disaster struck on its first play, when a Tucker fumble was recovered by the Big Green.

Playing the savior role all day, the Cornell defense came up with another big stop. On 3rd and 10, Nick Howard was poised to pick up a first down, but a huge hit by fifth year safety Demetrius Harris knocked the ball loose. Harris got the strip and the recovery, and the Red had the ball right back.

“A clutch takeaway like that, especially after we did the same thing…was big time,” Archer said.

Looking to put the nail in the coffin, the Red started on its own 34. Returning to its strength, Cornell mixed the run and the pass, but it was Wang who stepped up, completing a 14-yard pass to Laboy on a 3rd and 8 and a seven yard pass to senior wide receiver Thomas Glover on a 4th and 5. 

With just over a minute and a half left, the Red attempted a 45-yard field goal to take a seven point lead. Junior Jackson Kennedy’s kick was wide right, giving Dartmouth an opportunity to play spoiler on senior day.

Refusing to give in, Cornell’s defense showed up one last time. The Big Green drove down the field, but found itself on the Cornell eight yard line with just four seconds left. Howard’s pass went incomplete, and the Red held on for a 17-13 victory.

“You want to force him [Howard] to throw the hardest ball possible,” Archer said. “Force him to throw that boundary fade, not something in the middle of the field, not something to get tipped.”

The Red ends its season on the road in New York City, where it takes on Columbia on Saturday, Nov. 19 at 1 p.m. The game will be available on ESPN+.