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The Cornell Big Red entered their Saturday afternoon matchup with the visiting Chestnut Hill Griffins with a modest 1-1 record.
What a game. A talented Cornell offense that had dragged its feet through the first two games of the season came to life in one of the season’s most entertaining games so far. Chestnut Hill had earned itself a reputation for putting up points in bunches this season. As soon as the opening kickoff left the tee, that reputation became reality for the Cornell Big Red. In the blink of an eye, a 65-yard swing pass to Raveon Floyd-Bennet, an 81-yard kick return by Ricky Robinson III, and a two-play drive left Cornell shellshocked, down 21-3 just eight minutes into the game. Many teams would have folded. A great defense, one that has been the rock for this Cornell team, was being carved up for huge chunk plays. An offense, that failed to do its part in what could have been an upset of Ivy-rival Penn, just squandered six chances on the goal line and turned the ball over on its first two drives.
Cue record scratch sound effect. Here comes Cornell. Down to every last man, Cornell stepped up and played their best football. Largely used as a short-yardage back, junior Connor Young only had eight total yards on the day, but it took all of them to get the Big Red’s first and third touchdowns on the board. The bruiser punched in a goalline dive for his first touchdown. Like the gross aftertaste of a three-year-old bag of Funyuns, a blocked extra point turned what should have been a freebee into a two point, 95-yard scoop and score for the Griffins. Wasting little time, the offense quickly found themselves back on the field just in time for a 66-yard touchdown run from quarterback Connor Ostrander with a stumbling finish that would make Steve Young proud. A hustle play turned clipping penalty brought this BRSN Top Ten Play back to the Chestnut Hill 27-yardline. Like a poised veteran, freshman wide receiver Colton Koltecki stiff-armed momentary disappointment, scoring his first touchdown on a 27-yard catch and run the very next play. Following that score, head coach Bob Gneo and offensive coordinator Ron Amato made a crucial adjustment to Sprint Football’s kicking game: Go for two.
Four minutes into the second quarter, the defense officially settled down, making its second stop of the game. Nine plays and 75 yards later, Connor Young resurfaced on the goalline to catch sophomore Aneesh Agrawal’s first career touchdown pass. One stop and one Will Griffin touchdown reception later, the Big Red had its first lead, 29-23. With one minute left in the longest 30 minutes of sprint football I’ve ever seen, Ron Amato had his offense 45 yards away from a two score lead going into half.
To parody the only Metallica song that everyone knows all of the words to, enter Xandman. One of many seniors that stole the show, Xander Furman streaked down the right hash, striding towards the end zone. A last second turn for the ball 36 yards from where number six heaved it, he soared over his defender, stretching every inch of his sprint football size. Fast forward nine more yards, Brooks Panhans flips the ball to the referee as he high fives his teammates.
A 32-2 run for Cornell was a feather in the cap for an offensive line that desperately wanted to allow playmakers Brooks Panhans, Connor Ostrander, and Will Griffin to do what they’ve been waiting all year to do: Light it up. Commenting on a breakout performance from his group, offensive line coach Joe Volpe said, “My biggest takeaways from the O-line in the chestnut hill game: The work and effort all week we put in to improve in areas we needed to improve in and were also strengths of Chestnut Hill. Our ability and focus to continue to do what we knew we had to do to be successful no matter the score and the situation. We were solid in protection. We were bumping twists and picking up blitzes, giving the QB and skill positions time to make big plays.” Coach Volpe’s six man rotation of Sam Grossman, Denver Space, Raphael Chierchio, Dave Randall, John Klobus, and Werner Bradshaw played their best collective game of the season and look to build on it next week against St. Thomas Aquinas.
Will Griffin, the feature back for Cornell, sprang some crucial runs that made his offensive line right even when they weren’t. But it was in the passing game where the junior made his money this weekend, with four catches for 56 yards and one touchdown. Swiss Army Knife Brooks Panhans showed why he should be a top-ten pick in any Fantasy League with a PPR format (Point per reception), putting up a monster statline of nine receptions, 107 yards, and two touchdowns (One receiving and one passing). Not to be outdone, dual-threat quarterback Connor Ostrander erupted for four touchdowns and 381 total yards. The leader of this offense, Connor set the tone physically, running 19 times (mostly between the tackles) for 161 total yards. Saturday, the word “grit” was spelt C-O-N-N-O-R.
When asked about what he learned about his offense last Saturday, the signal-caller said, “I think the whole offense really came together this weekend and we were able to showcase our potential. The offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage, creating running lanes and gave me all the time I needed in the pocket. Our wide receivers and other skill positions made incredible plays all day. Xander had an incredible catch before the half, will griffin had a huge catch on third and long on the final scoring drive and Brooks was making plays all over the field. Coach was doing a great job keeping the defense off balance with the play-calling.”
But at 35-23, this game was far from over. The vaunted Griffin offense came roaring back, marching 79 yards down the field in 11 plays on their first drive of the half. Chestnut Hill added a field goal to close, which given the context of the game, could ironically be referred to as a modest, ten-point quarter. The fourth quarter of what was only the second ever meeting between these two teams was by far the tensest. A reverse pass from Brooks Panhans gave wide receiver Colton Kotecki his second touchdown grab of the day. Versatile as ever, the quarterback turned wide receiver, tight end, running back, and kick returner makes plays wherever needed. When asked about the role he played in an offense that was sprinting up and down the field all day, he said, “Once you get on a roll on offense it is a great feeling. Everything was clicking. The run game was getting us big gains and the receivers were able to make big time catches. Games like that are what you work all offseason for.”
Chestnut Hill wide receiver Domoree Hill punched right back, tying the game at 41 by snagging Michael Marino’s third touchdown pass of the day. Despite surrendering what was a tremendous lead, Chestnut Hill kept coming. When they didn’t score, they still put together drives that made the home team hold its breath. Quarterback Michael Marino’s 241-yard pushed the defense to its absolute limit while raising the bar for a hungry offense.
It was a 75-yard, smashmouth drive by Cornell capped off by an Ostrander run that would be the shootout’s final score. For shortly after, freshman Matt Luebke’s strip-sack iced the game for both teams’ greatest game of the year so far. A high-motor player, the scrappy interior lineman would not be denied. As Harry Green rumbled down the field chasing the loose ball that refused to be caught, the sidelines erupted, and the senior linebacker corralled it. As appreciative for the moment as he was excited, he commented, “It felt great to be able to make the play for the team. It felt like all the practice our defense put in paid off. From the standpoint of a new player it’s amazing to be able to contribute to the team so early and help us win.” One final third-down conversion completed a 511-yard, 49-point performance by the Big Red.
However, the stat of the day is not 511 yards of total offense. Nor is it 49 points. The number that should be stamped across the box score in big, red, and bold font, is “6”. Of the eight scoring drives willed together by the now 2-1 Big Red, six were touchdown drives that started from at least sixty yards away. Big plays win drives. Long drives win games.
Ten plays, 75 yards. The stoic, proud punctuation on what an inspired team views as the second big win of many more to come.