Late Saturday afternoon in front of more than 16,000 fans at Schoellkopf Field, Cornell football played its part in a special, historic weekend for our University. The inauguration of Cornell’s 13th President, Elizabeth Garrett, highlighted Homecoming weekend. We were honored that President Garrett served as honorary captain at our game and has been so supportive already of our program. The great Pete Noyes earned a well-deserved induction into the Cornell Athletics Hall of Fame. A statue was unveiled of our mascot, Touchdown the Bear, and we celebrated the 100th anniversary of our 1915 national championship team and a century of playing on Schoellkopf Field.
While our 19-14 loss to Bucknell on the surface may seem to be a disappointment, and for the players and coaches it is, I think anyone who had a chance to watch a terrific college football game would say that Cornell football took a major step forward. I’d go as far as saying it was the kind of step that will have an impact in how we shape our history going forward.
Going head-to-head with one of the premier teams in the Patriot League, we battled back twice to take the lead. We scored midway through the fourth quarter to go ahead 14-10. We seemingly had the opposing quarterback in our grasp on a desperation fourth down play that might have sealed the win. Sometimes luck doesn’t smile on you. A millisecond later and that quarterback would have been on the ground, but instead a great athlete was able to get just enough juice on a pass that it made it to the end zone. A Bucknell wide receiver was able to battle for the ball and come down with it surrounded by two of our top defensive players. A similar play by our team earlier in the game didn’t connect.
It’s after a result like this that you could be deflated, and maybe rightfully so, but when my staff grades our team on film on Saturday nights of Sunday mornings, we do so with the understanding that it must be result independent. Bad habits can be formed in wins, and good habits can be learned in losses. For a first game against a challenging opponent with two games under their belt, it’s safe to say that our performance was equal to or better than any game we’ve played since I was hired as head coach. The defense was nothing less than spectacular throughout long stretches of the game. While having to spend too much time on the field for too many plays, they were stout all game long. When I hired Jared Backus to coach the defense three years ago, this is what we envisioned in terms of scheme, effort and playmaking. In our first two seasons, the defense made great strides from the beginning of the season to the end, and if that trend continues, we’ll provide other teams plenty of things to think about before playing us. If we take the ball away more often than the one time we did against Bucknell and stay healthy, I like the promise we show.
The offense continues to strive for balance, and I think we achieved that again this past week. We put the ball in the hands of our top playmaker, senior running back Luke Hagy, 20 times in 47 offensive snaps. ¬¬We committed just one turnover, though that came late in the game at an inopportune time. I’ve said numerous times that this is really year two of our offense, and I see more comfortability in it amongst our players – they are able to understand and execute quicker, and you could see us make plays in both the running and passing games. Though we had a couple, more explosive plays are needed – we see on film that some of those plays are now there to be made as our protection continues to get better and our playmakers start winning more individual matchups.
Special teams was a bit of a mixed bag, as can be expected in the first game at full speed. There were plenty of positives – a couple strong returns, a solid effort in the punting, kickoff and coverage units and two flawlessly executed PAT kicks. There was also a penalty on coverage that extended an eventual scoring drive and a bad operation on a missed field goal that would end up being crucial. Again, plenty of room for improvement, but signs that the improvement will indeed come.
Don’t mistake my excitement for being satisfied with the result. We are not in the business of moral victories, but we are in the business of building Cornell Football. Bucknell was picked to finish second in a very tough Patriot League after finishing as the runner-up a year ago, but we entered the game expecting to win and played with no fear. We were all disappointed by the outcome, but certainly not with the effort when taking into consideration the growth this team has already made.
The players and others around me mentioned the atmosphere before and after the game – though Homecoming each year is fun and special, there seemed to be an extra buzz. There are good things building, and I hope that we have the same type of great crowd a little more than a week from now when we play Central New York rival Colgate on a rare Friday night game under the lights at Schoellkopf. I think we can have the same type of atmosphere we did this past Sunday to continue that buzz. In the meantime, we turn all of our attention on a really strong Yale team eager to play its home opener.
The Bulldogs ranked among the most potent offenses in Division I football last season, and they haven’t slowed down much this year. I expect that our team will be ready for a dogfight, as will Yale. Playing the first game of the Ivy season means all eyes will be on us, and we embrace the challenge. Coaches often say that the biggest improvement your team makes during the season is between week one and two, and we’ll need all of that and more to start the Ivy League season 1-0. If you can’t make it out to the Yale Bowl, watch the game live on the Ivy League Digital Network. If you haven’t signed up already, you can watch seven of our final nine games with a subscription.
Our players and coaching staff are so appreciative of your continued enthusiastic support. We have the most loyal and energized alumni base in the Ivy League, and you are helping us move the needle. Together we’ll get where we want to go, and this weekend was a huge step forward.
David J. Archer 05′
The Roger J. Weiss ’61
Head Coach of Football