Leilani Burke/Sun Staff Photographer

In his last game in a Cornell uniform, senior wide receiver Nicholas Laboy finished with nine receptions for 99 yards.

November 18, 2023

Football’s Second Half Comeback Attempt Comes up Short in Loss to Columbia

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ITHACA, N.Y. — On senior day at Schoellkopf Field, football had high hopes to end the season with a win. Hosting a Columbia team that had yet to win a conference game, the Red fell flat on both sides of the ball in the first half, falling into an early hole. Cornell scored two touchdowns in the second half to make the game competitive, but three second half turnovers were enough to stifle the comeback. Columbia rode a 22-point halftime lead to a 29-14 win.

“I’m really disappointed in the outcome — I thought we were going to pull off a comeback,” said head coach David Archer ’05. “And that’s tough on senior day with a big class that has given so much to this program, and I’m so proud of them.”

The Lions started the game with the ball and immediately began moving it, picking up three first downs to get into Cornell territory. Columbia stalled just outside the red zone, and kicker Hugo Merry’s attempt was no good from 44 yards out.

The Red (3-7, 2-5 Ivy) failed to generate any offense throughout the first half. Cornell’s best play of the first 30 minutes was its first — a 33-yard shot down the right sideline from junior quarterback Jameson Wang to sophomore wide receiver Davon Kiser. Cornell picked up one more first down on the drive, but eventually stalled. Senior kicker/punter Jackson Kennedy’s attempt from 40 yards was no good, keeping the game deadlocked at 0.

The Red has struggled with its run defense in the second half of the season, and Columbia (3-7, 1-6 Ivy) took advantage. On its second drive of the game, the Lions marched 78 yards on 10 plays, averaging a whopping 9.3 yards per carry. Running back Joey Giorgi capped off the drive with a three-yard rushing score, and the Lions jumped out to a 7-0 lead.

Following its initial drive, the Red’s offense did not move the ball into opposing territory for the remainder of the half. On the third play of the ensuing drive, Wang’s pass intended for sophomore wide receiver Doryn Smith was deflected up into the air and intercepted by the Lions. Columbia took over with prime field position at the Cornell 38.

Continuing to keep the ball on the ground, Columbia worked it into the red zone. The Red’s defense stiffened inside the 20, and the Lions settled for a 33-yard field goal to take a 10-point lead.

In the second quarter, Cornell had four possessions, and all four resulted in three-and-out punts. The Red finished the first half with 75 total yards and 11 minutes of possession.

“We got behind the sticks and that was hard to overcome,” Archer said. “And then they did a good job of controlling the ball in the first half.”

Columbia was able to take advantage of the Red’s offensive woes, adding two more field goals and a touchdown before halftime. The Lions’ touchdown came on a 65-yard quarterback draw from Caden Bell.

Columbia’s final score of the half, a 45-yard field goal, followed a 13 second drive that featured just one other play — a 33-yard pass down the right sideline. The first 30 minutes were all Columbia, and the Lions held a 22-0 lead going into the locker room.

After nothing short of an anemic offensive output in the first half, the Red’s attack came to life in the second half. Wang started the opening drive of the third quarter with passes of 14 and 16 yards to senior wide receiver Nicholas Laboy, and just like that, Cornell was in business.

Wang converted a fourth down with a 12-yard pass to senior running back Drew Powell to get Cornell into the red zone. Four plays later, it was Wang again, this time taking it on the ground for a two-yard rushing touchdown. The Red trailed, 22-7, midway through the third quarter.

“We were playing basically a brand new offensive line after Micah [Sahakian] got hurt early in the game,” Archer said. “So I think those guys settled in a bit.”

Cornell’s defense forced a quick three-and-out from the Lions, and passes to Kiser and Laboy had the Red driving in Columbia territory once again. However, on a 3rd and 6 from the Columbia 21, Wang’s pass was intercepted on the two-yard line and returned to the Columbia 33.

The Red’s defense continued to stand tall, forcing the Lions into an immediate fourth down situation. On 4th and 2, Columbia opted to go for it, but its toss play was stuffed behind the line of scrimmage by senior linebacker Noah Taylor.

Starting with favorable field position at the Columbia 39, the Red picked up one first down, but on a 3rd and 14, Wang was intercepted for the third time. The Lions returned it into Cornell territory, setting up a chance to put the game out of reach.

Despite starting in plus territory, multiple offensive penalties slowed the drive, and Columbia was forced to punt. Starting on its own 20, the Red picked up 32-yards on its first play with a 17-yard pass to Laboy and a roughing the passer penalty.

Two plays later, on a 2nd and 10 from the Columbia 48, Wang took a shot down the seam to Kiser. The speedy wide receiver made a sliding catch in the end zone, and just like that, it was a one-possession game.

Getting the ball on its 18 with just under seven minutes remaining, the Red looked to mount a game-tying drive. Wang completed passes of 10 and 24 yards to Smith to get Cornell into Columbia territory.

Needing a touchdown with under four minutes left, the Red faced a 4th and 4 on the Columbia 36. Wang dropped back to pass, but his throw over the middle was intercepted by defensive back Hayden McDonald. McDonald had open space down the right sideline, and took it to the house to seal a Columbia victory.

The Red was unable to overcome a slow first half, and three second half turnovers put any ideas of a comeback out of reach. Cornell went 2-for-14 on third downs.

“Disappointed in the results, proud of the effort, proud of the energy,” Archer said. “I feel really proud of these seniors and I feel really proud of the team — obviously I want the results to be better.”

After a promising 2-0 start to the year, the Red’s loss to Columbia marks the end of a disappointing finish to the season. Cornell went 1-7 in its final eight games, losing its final four by double digits. The Red will now head into the offseason with more questions than answers, and look to build a better campaign next year.