This article has been updated.
ITHACA, N.Y. — Playing in the rain on a wet Schoellkopf field, it was clear that football was going to be in a 60 minute fight in the trenches. Taking on Bucknell in its final nonconference game of the season, the Red (2-3, 1-1 Ivy), whose ground game has been a strength this season, was out-rushed, 176-82. The Bison (2-4, 0-2 Patriot League) mixed in occasional shot plays with a dominant rushing attack, and did enough on defense to come away with the win, 21-13.
“It’s a disappointing loss,” said senior wide receiver Nicholas Laboy. “We obviously want to come away with a win here. But the main thing is, we’ve just got to learn from this game.”
The effect of the wet conditions was evident from the start, as both teams struggled to generate offense in the first quarter. Bucknell went three-and-out on the opening drive of the game.
The Red started the game on the ground, as junior quarterback Jameson Wang converted a third down with a 20-yard rush. On the following play, looking to pass, Wang was hit as he threw. The ball popped up in the air and was caught at the line of scrimmage by a Bucknell defensive lineman, giving the Bison an immediate opportunity inside Cornell territory.
Faced with the sudden change of possession, the Red’s defense stepped up. Cornell forced the Bison into a 4th and 6 situation, and a tipped pass from quarterback Ralph Rucker went into the hands of senior safety Brody Kidwell. With room to run down the left sideline, Kidwell returned the pick 33 yards to set Cornell up on the Bucknell 41.
Looking to take advantage of the interception, the Red converted one first down before stalling just outside the red zone. Senior punter/kicker Jackson Kennedy came on for a 46-yard field goal attempt and drilled it, giving Cornell an early 3-0 lead.
Penalties became a major factor for both teams in the second quarter. On a Bison drive starting from its own 11 there were four total penalties — two on each team. The two against Cornell proved to be more crucial — both personal fouls giving Bucknell first downs.
Bolstered by the Red’s penalties, Bucknell drove 89 yards on 14 plays, eating up 4:33 of game clock on a drive that exclusively featured rush plays. Rucker capped it off himself with a one-yard touchdown rush, and the Bison took a 7-3 lead early in the second.
On the following drive, the Red was poised to strike back, as a 22-yard connection from Wang to Laboy put Cornell in Bucknell territory. Nevertheless, after picking up just six yards on the following three plays, the Red was faced with a 4th down. Opting to go for it, Wang scrambled out of the pocket but was tackled for a four-yard loss, and Cornell turned it over on downs.
Penalties continued to hurt both teams later in the quarter, as the Bison’s final drive of the half started with four consecutive penalties, again two on each team. The third personal foul of the quarter against the Red, coupled with a pass interference call against junior safety Trey Harris, had Bucknell threatening in Cornell territory.
The Red’s defense remained stout despite the penalties, and two plays after the pass interference, senior cornerback Paul Lewis III got a strip sack of Rucker, flying in untouched off the left side of the line. Junior linebacker Hunter Sloan fell on the loose ball, and Cornell was set up at the Bucknell 44 with three minutes remaining in the half.
Seeking to build momentum before halftime, the Red drove 26 yards on six plays before settling for a field goal attempt with two seconds remaining. Kennedy connected from 35 yards as time expired, and Cornell went into the locker room trailing, 7-6.
The Red came out of the gate hot in the second half. On the first play from scrimmage, Cornell moved the ball into Bucknell territory on a 24-yard, one-handed catch by Laboy.
“Coach is going to be mad at me about that one,” Laboy said. “Probably should have went with two hands, but it was a late reaction and I just reached my hand out and snagged it.”
Two plays later, Wang connected with senior tight end Matt Robbert on another 24-yard pass to get the Red into the red zone. Wang finished off the drive himself two plays later with a five-yard touchdown rush, giving Cornell a 13-7 lead.
The Red’s defense held up on Bucknell’s opening drive of the half, navigating its fourth personal foul of the game — this time roughing the passer — to force a punt. The Bison was able to pin Cornell deep, and the Red started the ensuing drive on its own one-yard line.
Backed up to its own end zone, Cornell was able to find some breathing room following a horse collar tackle by Bucknell. On the play after the personal foul, Wang connected with Laboy once again, this time on a 30-yard shot down the right sideline.
Cornell worked the ball to just outside the red zone before settling for its third field goal attempt of the day. Kennedy, who had already hit from 46 and 35, was short on the attempt from 44, and the Bison took over.
After almost exclusively rushing the ball in the first half, Bucknell took more shots in the air in the third quarter. On the Bison’s ensuing drive, Rucker completed passes of 11 and 39 yards — the latter setting up a goal-to-go opportunity.
Three plays later, running back Coleman Bennett found the edge and rushed for a one-yard touchdown to give the Bison the lead. Despite taking the lead, Bucknell had some injury concerns with Rucker, who came out of the game.
The Red failed to put up points on its following drive, and Bucknell got the ball back looking to extend its lead. Now being led by quarterback Nick Semptimphelter, the Bison jump started its drive immediately with a 26-yard rush.
Faced with a 3rd and 12 from the Cornell 40, Semptimphelter completed a 36-yard pass down the left sideline to set up a goal-to-go chance. Two plays later, Semptimphelter connected with wide receiver Damian Harris in the left corner of the end zone to give the Bison a 21-13 lead.
The Red continued to struggle on offense, going three-and-out on its following possession. Needing a stop to keep the game alive, Cornell’s defense stepped up, forcing a punt from Bucknell at midfield.
Down eight with just under two minutes remaining, the Red took over on its own five. Wang started the drive with a 36-yard pass to Robbert, but suffered an 11-yard sack on the next play. Playing well behind the sticks, Cornell was unable to overcome the sack, and turned the ball over on downs. Bucknell was able to take a knee and run out the clock, winning the game, 21-13.
“I think that’s what it ultimately came down to — Big Red beating the Big Red,” Laboy said. “We’re a talented team, and I think we can make plays and move the ball way better than we did.”
This marks the third straight loss for the Red after starting the season 2-0. After taking a 13-6 lead early in the second half, Cornell was shut out for the final 28 minutes of the game.
The Red now looks ahead to the heart of its schedule, starting with Brown next Saturday, Oct. 21. Kickoff from Schoellkopf Field is set for 1 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on ESPN+.