Oct. 30, 2004
ITHACA, N.Y. - Four seasons ago, the potential tying point-after attempt hit a Princeton offensive lineman in the back, giving Cornell the decisive one-point edge it needed in a 25-24 victory. On Saturday, the same kick deflected off the hand of a Cornell defensive lineman, and the same result occurred. The Princeton football team's hopes of a 2004 Ivy League title took a critical hit in a 21-20 loss to the Big Red at Schoellkopf Field.
A six-yard touchdown run by Greg Fields cut what was once a 14-point deficit to a mere 21-20 Cornell lead. Junior kicker Derek Javarone, who had made 20 of 21 extra-point attempts before that particular kick, saw his kick bounce off the hand of Matt Pollock with 6:48 remaining for the key play in a game full of huge plays. Cornell scored on passes of 24, 54 and 79 yards, while Princeton scored on an 80-yard pass from senior quarterback Matt Verbit to freshman receiver Bill Foran, who made his first career reception on the play. Verbit passed for a season-high 260 yards and one touchdown. He threw two interceptions, both of which bounced off the hands of his receivers. Fields, who entered the game ranked 17th in the NCAA in all-purpose yards, gained 224 all-purpose yards, his second-best total of the season. The Tigers mustered 69 yards rushing against the powerful Cornell run defense, including a team-best 50 from Branden Benson.
Zak Keasey led Princeton with 10 tackles, including two for losses, while Abi Fadeyi chipped in with nine tackles and a forced fumble. The defense allowed 382 total yards, including 320 in the air. Chad Nice caught four passes for 142 yards and a score, while Brian Romney caught five passes for 114 yards and two scores.
Cornell opened the scoring on its second possession. Thanks to a great punt that pinned Princeton on its 2-yard line, the Big Red owned the early field position battle and took advantage when Ryan Kuhn hit Brian Romney on a 54-yard post pattern for the score at the 8:52 mark. Kuhn stepped up in the pocket to buy an extra couple of seconds and allowed Romney to break free. Safety Brandon Mueller was the only player in the area, but the ball went just past his fingertips and into Romney's hands, and the junior wideout sprinted into the end zone untouched.
The next 15 minutes or so would belong to both defenses, as each continually shut down the opposings offenses. The Cornell defense, which held Princeton to -4 yards rushing in the first quarter, picked off a tipped pass from Verbit early in the second quarter and stopped Branden Benson inches from a first down on another drive. The Big Red appeared to escape danger on a later drive, as a long pass from Verbit went over the outstretched hands of an open Brian Shields on first down at the Tiger 20-yard line. Following another incompletion, Verbit went to the air again, although this time to the right sideline and to a new option. Freshman Bill Foran streaked past the Big Red defense and ran under a perfect deep ball from Verbit for an 80-yard touchdown. It was Princeton's eighth scoring drive of under one minute, and it was Verbit's sixth touchdown pass of the season; five of the scoring plays were to receivers who had never caught a touchdown pass before. For Foran, a recruited quarterback who brings great athleticism and speed, it was his first offensive yardage of any kind.
Cornell got a big kickoff return in its attempt to answer the Tiger score, but an open-field tackle by Tim Strickland at the 19-yard-line forced Cornell kicker A.J. Weitsman to attempt a 36-yard kick from the right hashmark. Weitsman's kick had the distance, but it hit the left upright and bounced harmlessly back into the end zone. Princeton would get one last shot to score before halftime, but following a long pass to Greg Fields, Verbit's fourth-down pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage.
The Big Red found the second half just as unlucky in field goal attempts. A long catch by Chad Nice got Princeton into field goal range once again, but this time Weitsman hit the right upright on a 34-yard field goal from the left hashmark in the opening minutes of the second half. On its next possession, the Big Red forsaked the kicking game and went to the air for another score. On third-and-long, Kuhn lofted a deep corner pass to Romney, who fought off Mueller for the go-ahead score. Trevor MacMeekin's conversion kick gave te Big Red a 14-7 lead with 6:20 remaining in the quarter.
Cornell opened the lead to 21-7 when Kuhn connected with Chad Nice for a 79-yard touchdown pass on its second play of its next possesson. Following a short run, Kuhn lofted a pass down the left sidelines, where junior defensive back Jay McCareins leaped high to tip the pass away. The ball hit Nice in stride, while McCareins lost his balance after the jump, and it was clear sailing to the end zone for the 14-point lead.
That play forced Princeton to get more aggressive with its play-calling, and the Tigers responded with a critical dive. A Cornell personal foul on the extra point gave Princeton field position at the 39-yard-line, and Fields caught two passes on the drive for 52 yards, including a third-down conversion on a 23-yard reception when he cut back against the defender and found both the sideline and the marker to extend the drive. Jon Veach, who entered the game having scored 14 touchdowns in his previous 11 games, took an option pitch from Verbit and found the front right corner of the end zone for the score.
That score inspired the Princeton defense, which shut the Big Red offense down on its next two possessions. The second possession, which featured a sack and a pass for a loss of yardage, ended on a punt that Greg Fields returned 47 yards to the Cornell 23-yard-line. Benson rushed twice to move the chains, and appeared to score from 13 yards out on the next play, but a holding call negated the score. The Tigers refused to give in, and gave it twice to Benson on fake reverses, and the senior tailback gained 17 of those yards back on the runs. On third down, Princeton set up in the same formation but handed the ball to Fields on the reverse, who scored untouched with help from a block from Joel Mancl. The extra point was then blocked by Pollock, who was in the middle of the line, and the Big Red remained ahead 21-20.
The Tiger defense held once again, and Princeton was assisted by a 17-yard punt from Mike Baumgartel that gave the Tigers possession at their own 47-yard line. Following a sack and a short completion, Verbit ran for 11 yards and then completed a fourth-down pass to McCareins to keep the drive alive. The next three plays yielded a loss of two yards, and a desperation pass to McCareins on fourth down sailed out of bounds.
Princeton will face Penn next weekend at Princeton Stadium. The Quakers, who have won eight straight in this series, are the two-time defending Ivy League champion and enter the game with a 6-1 record and a 4-0 mark in the Ivy League. The game will be televised live on College Sports TV, beginning at 1 p.m., and can be heard live on WHWH 1350 AM and GoPrincetonTigers.com.