Football Risks Ivy Win Streak
After Cornell coach Tim Pendergast’s inaugural season ended with a disappointing 2-7 record last year, the Big Red dropped its opening games this season to Bucknell and Yale. However, Cornell came out against a tough Towson team last Saturday and shocked the Tigers 34-31 in overtime. Towson already defeated Brown and pummeled Holy Cross 41-10 early in the season.
Cornell placekicker Trevor MacMeekin nailed a 19-yard field goal in overtime to propel the Big Red to victory. For his heroics, MacMeekin was named Ivy League Special Teams Player of the Week. However, he wouldn’t have had a chance to win the game if Cornell sophomore Joel Sussman hadn’t blocked a Towson field goal earlier in the extra period.
Last year, Harvard went to Ithaca and pounded the Big Red 26-6, allowing Cornell its only touchdown with 2:08 left in the game.
In that contest, senior quarterback Neil Rose threw for 292 yards and a score while senior running back Nick Palazzo had two rushing touchdowns to go with 66 yards. However, Harvard has noticed the improvement in the Big Red this year, and no one is expecting an easy game from Pendergast’s squad.
“They’re a much better team no question. Everybody’s got to execute their assignment and we’ve got to play real hard,” Murphy said.
However, if the Crimson needs any reminder of Cornell’s traditional competitiveness, it need look no further than the heartbreaking loss it suffered last time Cornell visited the Stadium in 2000. After jumping out to a 28-0 halftime lead, the Big Red stormed back in the second half to stun Harvard 29-28.
This year, Cornell’s run has been the key to its offense. Against Towson, senior tailback Brian Ulbricht, filling in for injured starter Marcus Blanks, ran for 164 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. In two previous games, Blanks racked up 172 yards and two touchdowns on 36 carries. Blanks’ status for this weekend is uncertain, so the Crimson needs to be prepared for both talented tailbacks.
“They clearly run the ball much better than they did a year ago,” Murphy said. “We know that’s their strength, and anytime you prepare for somebody, you’ve got to try to take away their strength and make them go to something they’re not as comfortable with.”
At the quarterback position, the Big Red has less depth and experience. Senior Mick Razzano is in his first year as a starter after watching Cornell multi-recordholder Ricky Rahne ’02 from the bench. In three games, Razzano has completed only 46.2 percent of his passes (37 of 80) for 353 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Forcing the first-year starter to go to the air rather than rely on the ground game is crucial for Harvard.
“The key is pressure—we’ve got to get some pressure on [Razzano] and preferably without having to blitz,” Murphy said.
The big question again this week is whether captain and quarterback Neil Rose will be starting after two games off with a back injury or whether sophomore Ryan Fitzpatrick will get the nod again.
No matter who starts, the Crimson is clearly in good shape. Fitzpatrick has performed admirably in Rose’s absence, throwing for 414 yards and two touchdowns with a 63 percent completion rate (34 of 54). He has also ran 45 times for 230 yards and two touchdowns. On the other hand, if Rose gets the start, everyone knows what the returning All-Ivy quarterback can do.
“Coach Murphy and his staff have done an outstanding job of teaching the quarterback at Harvard, because you can see that they didn’t miss a beat in terms of making the correct decisions at that position—both Fitzpatrick and Rose are outstanding quarterbacks,” Pendergast said.
Due to the death of a family member, offensive coordinator Jay Mills will not be with the team this weekend, but there are no indications that this will slow down the Crimson offense.
When Harvard has the ball, it will always need to be aware of where Sussman is. The outside linebacker has been the real difference-maker for the Big Red defense this year, leading the team with 27 tackles.
“There have been two different Cornell teams this year,” sophomore wide receiver Rodney Byrnes said. “Last week they were fired up and came to play...and they looked really good, but Yale ran all up and down the field on them.”
Clearly, which Cornell team shows up this weekend will be vital to what kind of battle is waged at Harvard Stadium tomorrow. If Cornell comes out like it did against Towson, it should be a competitive game. But two weeks ago, Yale pummeled the Big Red 50-23 in Ithaca, N.Y.—needless to say, the powerful Crimson offense will have a field day if Cornell comes out flat.
“In the Ivy League, there aren’t any real outliers, and we are expecting to see the best Cornell team that anyone is going to see this year,” senior free safety Xavier Goss said. “Each year that they come here or we go there, they always put up a big fight.”
It’s been two years since Harvard has played coming off a loss, and this weekend will be a big test of how the Crimson reacts against a tough league opponent. The freshmen and sophomores on the team have yet to experience the game after a loss in a Harvard uniform.
“The upperclassmen have been trying to talk to us younger fellows...and give us some encouragement,” Byrnes said. “I haven’t lost in a while and it hurts, but I’m ready to bounce back.”