Editor’s Note: This story was written by and republished with the permission of the Big Red Sports Network, which provides excellent Cornell sports coverage throughout the year for alumni, parents, students and fans everywhere.
As soon as the clock hit 0:00, Coach Archer giddily ran his team over to the away fans section of Columbia’s Wien Stadium. Having just beaten Columbia 30-27, the Big Red couldn’t wait to sing “Cornell Victorious” with the Big Red Marching Band for the first time all year. In a battle of winless teams, Cornell (1-8, 1-5 Ivy) finally got into the victory column with an exciting, and somewhat bizarre, win over the still winless Columbia Lions (0-9, 0-6 Ivy), to keep possession of the Empire State Bowl.
For the third straight game, the Big Red took an early lead, this time going up 21-0 in the second quarter. Luke Hagy, who had his best game of the season with 148 yards on just 19 carries, scored the game’s first two touchdowns. After his three-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-1 opened the scoring, he caught a 19-yard touchdown pass from Robert Somborn. That play that was a set up by a Sean Scullen interception off Columbia QB Anders Hill, the only pass he threw all day, and the first of three interceptions for Cornell’s defense. After Somborn threw a 70-yard bomb to Collin Shaw on the first play their of their next possession to make it 21-0, it seemed like the game would be over early.
However, it was just getting started.
Undeterred by the deficit, or the majority-Cornell fan support at their home stadium, Columbia scored two touchdowns in the final four minutes of the second quarter, to make it a seven point game going into the half. The Lions then opened the second half with an impressive seven-minute, 71-yard touchdown drive, which culminated with a Cameron Molina one-yard scoring run. This quick comeback, which was already out of the ordinary as Columbia came into this game only averaging nine points per game, set up an extremely bizarre sequence of plays.
On the ensuing kickoff, Cornell was unable to get a hold of the ball, which allowed the Lions to recover the ball on the Big Red’s 21-yard line. However, Cornell was given the ball right back on the very next play, when quarterback Trevor McDonagh’s pass was intercepted by freshman Nick Gesualdi on the nine yard line. But two plays later, Somborn gave the ball back to Columbia on an interception returned to the 10. Then on fourth-and-1, Molina scored his second touchdown of the game to give the Lions the lead. But on the ensuing extra point, senior linebacker Taylor Betros broke through the line and blocked the kick, which was then returned the length of the field by Jarrod Watson-Lewis for two points, to make the score 27-23.
Cornell’s offense, which had been stymied since the beginning of the second quarter, finally got the boost it needed early in the fourth, when Hagy broke free for 63-yard touchdown run. Hagy’s touchdown, his third of the game made it 30-27, but if the PAT hadn’t been blocked, the score likely would have been tied 28-28. The key block by Betros proved to be the difference, as the score held for the rest of the game.
Even though they gave up 27 points to one of the worst offenses in the country, Cornell’s defense came up big when it matted most. Columbia had a chance to tie or even win the game on their final drive after a dropped pass on third down forced Cornell to punt. With only one timeout, the Lions converted a huge 4th and 11 to move them to midfield, putting them in great field position. However, on the next play, Gesualdi, who already had two picks and a forced fumble, sacked McDonagh on a safety blitz, moving Columbia back to their own 39. They turned it over on downs three plays later to clinch the Empire State Bowl for Cornell, sending the Big Red Marching Band and the majority-Cornell crowd into a frenzy.
For Cornell, it was their first win since last year’s season finale at Penn. That game was coincidentally also determined by a blocked extra point, when Tre’ Minor blocked a PAT with one minute left to preserve a 42-41 win. Even though the team has struggled mightily this year, exceptional performances on both sides of the ball by Hagy and Gesualdi, along with a solid game from Somborn (9 of 14 for 162 yards and two touchdowns) should give them hope for the future. As for Columbia, they have now lost 20 straight, and have been outscored on the season 318-69.
Cornell will conclude its season next week at Schoellkopf Field when they host the Penn Quakers (1-8, 1- Ivy) for Senior Day, in the annual battle for the Trustees Cup.