All-Ivy football players earn their honors by making good, solid contributions, play after play after play.
You can put Cornell's John McNiff into the All-Ivy category. The junior running back has already lived up to his Ivy League Sophomore of the Year label by rushing for 420 yards this season, including a 192-yard effort to spark the Big Red's 20-17 win over Harvard at The Stadium Saturday.
McNiff's two touchdowns in the third quarter, including a 66-yard jaunt down the right sideline, were the highlights as Cornell overcame a 10-3 halftime deficit to take a 17-10 lead just five minutes into the third period.
Sure, McNiff's whopping 8.9 yards per carry are the focus of Crimson reflections about the loss--especially when Harvard had allowed only 1.8 yards per rush entering the game.
"We said all week in practice that this had to be the game of our lives," McNiff said.
And it was the win of their lives, putting the Big Red (2-2 overall, 2-0 Ivy) in sole possession of first place, as Harvard (2-2, 1-1) dropped into a fourth-place tie with Princeton.
But an All-Ivy performance does not necessarily a memory make. Memories are made by one play--often a game-deciding one. And Harvard football players will remember Cornell safety Gerry Willinger and kicker Matthew Hepfer, not McNiff, when they think of "what could have been" or how "this one got away."
With 40 seconds remaining in the game and Harvard in position for an easy game-tying field goal with a 3rd-and-goal at the Cornell 9-yard line, it was Willinger who blitzed Adam Lazarre-White and chased the Harvard QB all the way back to the 29-yard line--far out of field goal position.
"What Harvard showed on the final play they hadn't shown all day," Cornell CoachJim Hofher said. "We reacted to it. You can'tpractice for everything Harvard shows you. You'vejust got to visualize, 'If this, then that....'"
One play. One unheard of play that should neverhave happened. Everyone knew the stakes. Restichad specifically reminded Lazarre-White in thepreceding timeout not to take a big loss.
"Our game plan was to attack with one extraperson," said Willinger, who recorded three sacks."I just happened to be the one in the back-field.It didn't look like anyone tried to block me."
Of such are memories made.
Hepfer's memory had come just minutes before onthe previous drive. The Big Red sludged through a38-yard drive behind short bursts by McNiff andScott Oliaro, but it stalled at the Harvard26-yard line.
Enter Hepfer, lining up for a field goal whichhad a slim-to-none chance of success, and itseemed like Slim had already left for Texas.
But the junior placekicker had hidden Slim inhis back pocket and booted a wind-aided,career-best 43-yard field goal to give the Big Reda lead with with five minutes remaining in thegame.