Cornell Tops Football for First Time in 11 Years

Tenuous
Freshman quarterback Jake Smith eyes receivers during a home game versus Brown.

In 2005, Harvard fell to Cornell, 27-13, on the road. In the 11 following years, the Crimson routinely demolished the Big Red. Scores of 45-13 in 2012 and 40-3 in 2015 made Harvard-Cornell matchups less than intriguing—it was a foregone conclusion that the league-leading Crimson would beat up on struggling Cornell.

Twelve years later, however, the Big Red finally came up big.

In front of a small but raucous home crowd at Schoellkopf Field in Ithaca, N.Y., Cornell stunned Harvard (2-2, 1-1 Ivy) in a 17-14 defeat. The Big Red (1-3, 1-1) propelled itself to victory with a dynamic running strategy, accumulating 233 rushing yards compared to 223 total yards for the Crimson.

“I think we out-Harvarded them,” Cornell coach David Archer said. “I thought we gave up the play-action deep ball, but other than that, I don't think we gave up anything. They averaged a ton of yards on the ground coming in, and I think our defensive line played fantastic.”

The first half was all Harvard, but Cornell clawed back to command its first lead of the game with 9:58 left in the fourth quarter.

Starting at the Crimson’s 34, the Big Red wasted no time getting within scoring range. On the drive’s second play, sophomore running back Harold Coles spied a wide-open hole up the middle and nearly scored, only to be dragged down at the three-yard line. Harvard submitted a goal-line stand, but Cornell kicker Zach Mays still popped a field goal through the uprights. Cornell 17, Harvard 14.

The Big Red’s game-clinching drive was preceded by a punt downed at Harvard’s one-yard line and a staunch run defense that forced the Crimson to punt after three tries. Junior Charlie Booker notched only seven yards on three carries as he and freshman quarterback Jake Smith worked out of their own end zone. That defensive stand allowed for the hosts’ comeback.

One-third of the Big Red’s relentless trio of backs, junior Chris Walker, compiled 157 total yards, 100 on the ground and 57 in the air. He was a key cog in Cornell’s onslaught, which picked up 357 yards on 77 plays. For comparison, Harvard ran 44 plays and had 13 fewer minutes of possession time.

To start the second half, Cornell maintained its strategy of pounding the ball through the Crimson’s defensive line. After forcing Harvard to settle for a 43-yard field goal attempt that sailed wide left, the Cornell quarterback duo guided the Big Red downfield to tie the game.

On the Crimson’s 36, quarterback Dalton Banks spotted wide receiver Owen Peters battling for position with senior defensive back Tim Haehl. Peters quickly hit the brakes and cut behind Haehl to reel in Banks’ toss. Cornell’s running machine took over from there. Supplanting Banks was senior quarterback Jake Jatis, who snuck into the end zone on his second snap. Another marathon of a drive for the Big Red, another touchdown.

Cornell commenced its comeback in the first half with a drive spanning 15 plays and 6:34 of game time. The running back trio of Walker, Coles, and Jack Gellatly paired with the Banks-Jatis quarterback team to cut through Harvard’s line. Jatis punctuated the push when he faked a handoff to Walker, kept the ball, and dove into the end zone to cut the Big Red’s deficit to 14-7.

“I thought for sure that they were going to try to run the ball, if for no other reason than that they’d had so many turnovers in the pass game,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “They had a conservative game plan, they had a solid game plan, and they executed very well.”

Long Cornell drives kept Smith and his offense on the sideline. None of these drives was more important than Cornell’s last. With 6:03 left to play, holding a three-point advantage, the Big Red ran 11 plays for 45 yards, knocking 5:28 off the clock and effectively quashing Harvard’s comeback bid.

Walker extended the drive with a 13-yard effort on third-and-nine. The junior bumped to the outside and ran past the marker. Then came a 15-yard penalty against the Crimson (unsportsmanlike conduct), and all of a sudden Cornell had crossed midfield.

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