Cornell Looks to End Season on High Note vs. Penn
In a season full of disappointing results, Cornell finally had something to celebrate last week, beating Columbia 30-27 for their first win of the season. The Big Red (1-8, 1-5 Ivy) will get a chance to build off that victory, and end their season on a positive note when they face the Penn Quakers (1-8, 1-5 Ivy) Saturday at Schoellkopf Field, in the annual battle for the Trustees’ Cup.
This rivalry dates back to the teams’ first meeting in 1893, when Ivy League schools were considered to be among the best football teams in country. They have met every year uninterrupted since 1919, the third longest streak in the FCS. For several years, Cornell-Penn was a traditional Thanksgiving Day game, with a national radio audience, sometimes even national championship implications on the line. Even though the days of drawing over 60,000 fans to Franklin Field and selling out Schoellkopf Field to the point where people would watch the game from atop trees have since passed, this is still a rivalry that both teams take a lot of pride in.
Regardless of the teams’ records, this game is usually closely contested. This was seen last year when Cornell won 42-41 in one of the most bizarre football games in recent memory. In the final game of his prodigious career, Jeff Mathews threw for 467 yards and four touchdowns, giving the Big Red a seemingly insurmountable 42-21 lead with less than eight minutes remaining. However, Penn stormed back with two quick touchdowns, and appeared to have tied the game when they intercepted a Jeff Mathews screen pass and returned it for a touchdown with a minute left. However, with the Big Red Marching Band screaming “Slip and Fall!” Tre’ Minor busted through the line to block the ensuing extra point, preserving the wacky 42-41 win.
The days of Cornell scoring in such a manner have seemed like a distant memory this season though, as they have greatly struggled on offense. Before putting up 30 points against Columbia’s dismal defense last week, they were only averaging about 13 points a game. Even though emergence of QB Robert Somborn has added a downfield passing attack that was missing earlier in the season (which has allowed for running room for Luke Hagy) the offense is still a far cry from where it was in the Jeff Mathews era. But with the continued improvement of Somborn (who is only a sophomore) and the gradual maturation of the offensive line, there is a lot to look forward to next year.
Like Cornell, Penn has had a very frustrating year. Their lone win also came at the expense of Columbia, but have had some very close games not go their way. The past two weeks, they narrowly lost to Princeton 22-17, and had a fourth quarter lead slip away in a 34-24 loss to the undefeated Harvard Crimson. The Quakers have struggled the most this year on the defensive side of the ball, giving up 34 points per game. They have been particularly poor against the run, giving up over 200 rushing yards per game.
However, unlike the Big Red, Penn has had pretty consistent performances on the offensive side of the football this season. Sophomore QB Alek Torgersen, who mounted last year’s epic comeback vs. Cornell when he came off the bench in the second half, has been leading the unit, which is scoring 20 points per game. Torgersen has started all nine games, and has looked good, completing 61% of his passes, while throwing for an average of 262 yards per game. He has however thrown 10 interceptions against 11 touchdowns, which could prove troublesome vs. a Cornell secondary that picked off Columbia three times last week.
As Cornell’s seniors prepare for their final game on the Hill, they will want to end their careers with a win. The Class of 2015 has been able to experience an exciting era in the history of Cornell football, from playing with the record-breaking Mathews, to playing for Coach Archer, the youngest Division I coach in the nation. It will be a bittersweet day on Saturday, as they try to beat Cornell’s oldest rival for third time in four years to retain the Trustees’ Cup.