Nov. 2, 2002
ITHACA, N.Y. - Blair Morrison caught a career-best eight passes for 107 yards, but it was his final reception Saturday that was the biggest of both his career and the 2002 Princeton football season. His 11-yard touchdown reception in overtime put an exclamation point on a 22-point rally and gavce Princeton a 32-25 overtime victory over Cornell at snowy Schoellkopf Field. It was Princeton's first win in Ithaca since the 1992 season, and its first win in overtime since 2000.
An ugly first half forced Princeton to pull off one of its more spectacular comebacks in recent history. Trailing 25-10 entering the final quarter, Princeton took its first drive and moved 43 yards for a touchdown. The Tigers got to the one-yard line when Morrison went high to catch a pass from quarterback Matt Verbit, who made his first career start after junior Dave Splithoff was injured the previous week against Harvard. After a penalty pushed the Tigers back five yards, Verbit took a quarterback keeper six yards for the score. Derek Javarone put the extra point in to cut the lead to 25-17 with 11:58 remaining. Princeton kept Cornell from gaining a first down on either of its next two possessions, and took the ball at its own 39-yard line with 8:12 remaining in regulation. Verbit rushed for one first down and passed for another before running an option with senior tailback Cameron Atkinson on a 3rd and one deep in Cornell territory. Atkinson took it down the right sidelines and stepped out of bounds just before crossing the goal line. Not to be denied, Atkinson took the next run the other way and bounced off two tacklers before powering his way into the end zone.
It became a situation Princeton had faced the last time it was in Ithaca. Cornell had 25 points, and Princeton needed a conversion after a late touchdown to tie it. In 2000, an extra point was needed, but Taylor Northrop slipped on the wet turf and missed the kick. On Saturday, needing the two points for the tie, Verbit kept it and went left for the conversion.
Cornell nearly had the opportunity to win it in the final seconds. A personal foul was called on a Princeton punt, forcing the Tigers to punt again. The snap bounced to punter Joe Nardello, who couldn't control it and get the punt off. He was tackled at the Princeton 15-yard line with 24 seconds remaining. After an incompletion and a one-yard rush, Cornell tried to get the ball deeper on a pass attempt. Mick Razzano's pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted by Jay McCareins; it was the sophomore's fourth interception of the season, and each has been in the final four minutes of regulation to end a potential game-winning drive.
Princeton got the ball first in overtime and immediately lost nine yards on a sack. Verbit then completed three straight passes: one to Morrison to get Princeton back to 3rd and 10, one to Andy Bryant to convert on the third down and a fade to the right side of the end zone to Morrison.
Cornell moved the ball to the Princeton 7-yard line on its drive before Razzano threw an incompletion on third down. With fourth-and-goal, both teams called timeouts to set up the critical play. The defensive line got a surge on Razzano, whose intended pass to Keith Ferguson sailed out of the end zone and ignited a wild Princeton celebration.
The Tigers' rally followed arguably its ugliest half of the season. Princeton fumbled three times in the first half, had a punt blocked and converted on one of six third-down attempts. Razzano gave Cornell an early 7-0 lead with a three-yard run, a drive which started after Princeton's first fumble. Princeton evened the score when senior wideout Chisom Opara took a reverse, followed the lead blocking of sophomore Trey Greene and went 23 yards for the score.
Cornell's Trevor MacMeekin and Javarone traded field goals before th Big Red added 15 second-quarter points to take the 25-10 halftime lead. A sack of Verbit in the end zone gave Cornell a 12-10 lead, and a one-yard run by Brian Ulbricht three minutes later opened up a 19-10 lead. Matt Wise caught a six-yard touchdown pass with 33 seconds remaining in the half to open the lead to 25-10, but the two-point conversion attempt failed. Amazingly, it almost got worse after that, as Andre Hardaway blocked a punt by Nardello with four seconds left in the half. Vic Yanz scooped it up, but was tackled by Nardello at the two-yard line.
Atkinson rushed for 119 yards and one touchdown, giving the senior his fifth 100-yard rushing game in the last six weeks. He also became the sixth player in Princeton history to rush for over 2,000 yards. He is now fifth on the all-time rushing list at Princeton with 2,118 yards. Opara also hit a milestone by becoming the third Princeton player ever to record over 2,000 yards receiving. He caught five passes for 46 yards and now has 2,008 yards receiving.
Defensively, junior defensive lineman Joe Weiss led the unit with 12 tackles and two sacks, while junior linebacker Zak Keasey has 11 tackles. Overall, the defense limited Cornell to a total of 53 yards after halftime.
Princeton will face Penn next Saturday at 1 p.m. at Princeton Stadium. Penn comes into the game undefeated in the league, while Princeton has one loss.