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Cornell sits deep in upstate New York. For miles there is nothing but trees and hills until there is suddenly a tall concrete parking garage. Atop that garage sits the the Big Red’s windy football field.
Last Saturday, Harvard made the trek to the top of that hill and, for the first time in since 2005, did not emerge the king. With the 17-14 win, Cornell grabbed both its first Ivy League victory and win of the season. The Crimson fell to 1-1 in division play.
Harvard jumped out on top early, dominating the first and most of the second quarter. A 36-yard connection between freshman Jake Smith and senior Jake Barann with 9:36 remaining in the first half would be the last points the Crimson put on the board. From there, the Big Red’s consistent run game drained both the clock and the defense as they put up 17.
MR. SMITH GOES TO CORNELL
Throughout the entirety of the 2017 season—practices and throughout matchups—there has been a quarterback battle between fifth-year senior and 2016 starter Joe Viviano and Smith. In the past games Coach Tim Murphy has started one, only to bring in the other about halfway through. This Saturday, Murphy went with the rookie and kept him in to the buzzer.
Smith rewarded him with a strong performance. He found the open receivers and displayed excellent pocket awareness throughout the afternoon. On 14 attempts, the freshman completed eight and was intercepted once after a ball was tipped into a defender. On several pass attempts, he dropped the ball into pockets where there seemingly weren’t any. He found receivers freshman Ryan Reagan and Barann on streaks up the middle of the field for more than 30 yard gains. Barann found the end zone and Reagan landed on the five, setting up Harvard’s first touchdown.
It was only in the fourth quarter that Smith’s youth became apparent. The Crimson had three drives in the fourth quarter and the first began at its own one-yard line. Offenses under Smith have had trouble getting started from within their own 10. This drive, junior running back Charlie Booker was given the ball three times and then Harvard returned the ball back to the Big Red with good field possession, allowing them to tack on the winning field goal.
“I thought [Viviano] was a good scrambler,” Cornell coach David Archer said. “I was kind of surprised they didn't give him any snaps but Coach Murphy is an outstanding coach he's got a thought process behind that.”
The next drive Smith was sacked three times. Once for five yards, then for 14 (intentional grounding) and 13 yards. The final sack doubled as a fumble from Smith that was recovered by the Crimson offense. The Big Red received the punt with six minutes left and returned the ball to Harvard with only 35 seconds remaining. Smith was sacked for seven yards on first down. With no timeouts, the Crimson had to spend precious seconds lining up to spike the ball and stop the clock. His third-down pass was tipped and then picked off by a diving Cornell defender. Now with the ball, the Big Red wasted the final seconds away to pull off its first victory against Harvard in 12 years.
Penalties proved detrimental for both teams but would ravage Cornell’s offense early in the game and the Crimson’s toward the final whistle. In total, the Big Red claimed 13 penalties and lost 106 yards while Harvard lost 67 yards on eight flags.
“[Cornell] played a hard game, they played a smart game, they played a physical game, and they deserved to win,” Murphy said. “Our kids played hard in all phases. At the end of the day, we just made too many mistakes in a very tight game.”
Tied at 14 late in the third quarter the Big Red had the ball and was driving. Its dominant ground game had already overwhelmed the Crimson twice and a touchdown here would be the backbreaker. The second play of the drive, Cornell was docked for a false start. After overcoming that hurdle and notching a first down, a holding call pushed the Big Red back to first-and-20. An errant run and then an illegal substitution left the team with third-and-28. The three penalty drive would prove insurmountable. Though saving grace came in the form of an excellent punt by punter Nickolas Null that was downed at the Harvard one-yard line.
The Crimson’s laundry laden drive came three later. With 9:48 in the fourth and down three, Harvard began pushing toward the Cornell end zone quite efficiently. After a declined holding penalty, Smith found junior wide out Justice Shelton-Mosley for a long third-down conversion. At third-and-two, a false start dropped the Crimson back another five. Smith again converted the third down on a pass to another junior wide receiver, Adam Scott. At the Big Red’s 40, Smith was called for intentional grounding and granted a 14-yard loss. The second-and-24 expanded to third-and-37 after a sack, leading Harvard to punt away on its last good shot at putting more points on the board.
Going into the matchup, Cornell knew where its bread and butter would be. The first play from scrimmage attacked the Crimson defensive front and the Big Red never stopped battering its way forward with the run. It took almost two quarters before the defense finally gave way.
Cornell was successful pounded the ball for the majority of the second half, nearly quadrupling Harvard’s rushing yards with 233 to 62. That dominance came on over double the number of attempts the Crimson put forth on the ground with the Big Red handing the ball off 59 times and Harvard trusting its backs 29. In fact, the Crimson had less plays from scrimmage, 44, than Cornell had run plays.
Missing from the Harvard defensive line was junior DJ Bailey and senior Stone Hart. Their absence was apparent.
“When a team is running the ball at you every single play, most of the time, we’ve always been able to stop the run,” senior safety Tanner Lee said. “That’s what we pride our defense in. They did a great job today running it right at us and being consistent and running straight downhill. We have to make sure that we come out next week and fix that because I’m sure other teams will do that down the stretch.”
The number of yards wasn’t so big of a factor, most drives amounted to a punt, but the time the rushes bled off the clock. The Big Red held onto the ball for over 36 minutes while the Crimson had it for just over 23. The divide became clearest in the fourth quarter as Harvard handed Cornell the lead. With six minutes remaining in the game, the Big Red took the ball and essentially just held onto it for five and half minutes, during which the Crimson spent all three of its timeouts. When Harvard received the resulting punt, they had 30 seconds to try and make something happen. Nothing did.
“Our players made plays when the game was on the line,” Archer said. “It just feels awesome, you can't put a price on this one you know what I mean. For as low as you feel when you lose, this is like, I'm floating guys.”
—Staff writer Cade Palmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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