After erasing two early deficits and entering halftime with a 20-16 advantage, it appeared Cornell was going to send its 16-member senior class out on a high note Saturday afternoon in its final game at Schoellkopf Field. A 19-yard scamper into the end zone by Columbia’s senior quarterback, M.A. Olawale, with 1:51 left in regulation cemented a 30-20 road victory for the Lions. However, it was the six interceptions suffered by Cornell quarterbacks on the afternoon that sealed the Red’s fate.
Olawale, who missed the Lions’ last two games due to a “little sprain” in his shoulder, provided a spark off the bench for Columbia (3-6, 2-4 Ivy) in the second half. The 6-1 and 224-pound quarterback was a dual threat, rushing for 95 yards on 11 attempts and completing nine passes on 11 attempts with one interception.
“I was shocked they weren’t playing him earlier,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87. He is a big, strong, physical, good runner. …We were ready for it, but still it’s such a different game, a downhill attack with a big guy at quarterback. It’s difficult and we’re undersized up front and both our starting defensive ends, [sophomore] Matt MacFarlane and [senior] Ricky Ballou, didn’t play. He’s a tough guy to defend, so we reeled a little bit, but I thought we recovered enough, till he got the one [touchdown] at the end.”
Prior to Olawale’s game-winning trip to the end zone, Cornell (2-7, 1-5 Ivy) began a drive from its 12-yard line with 4:47 to play, but an underthrown pass from senior Ben Ganter was picked off by junior linebacker Augie Williams to end the drive prematurely.
“Obviously, it’s a big down right there,” Williams said. “I have one or two options, either rush and try to get in on the quarterback or drop off. They had crossers all day, running across the field, so I figured I could help maybe underneath on someone and sure enough the quarterback kind of gave me one right in my hands to tell you the truth.”
Cornell’s six interceptions, including three on the Red’s final three possessions, fell just one short of matching the school’s single-game record established in 1987 at Princeton. Despite tossing five of the team’s six interceptions, Ganter has valiantly battled arm troubles since the middle of the season. His determination and fearlessness inside a collapsing pocket has accounted for much of the Red’s success on broken plays downfield.
“If I showed you the film, on a few of the interceptions there are guys wide open and [Ganter’s] just struggling getting the ball to them. In my mind he can’t be healthy,” Knowles said, referring to Ganter’s throwing shoulder injury he has been battling since the middle of the season. “He’s trying. It’s his [last] senior game [at home] and he wanted to play, so he has a lot of guts and he’s a great young man, but he’s not healthy and just not making the throws. The arm’s not responding to where he’s putting the ball and that means he’s got some problems.”
Although Cornell failed to score in the second half and could not contain Olawale, the Red battled back from two early deficits in the first half. Columbia raced out to an early 13-0 lead in the first 55 seconds of play. Junior tailback Zack Kourouma, who had been averaging a lackluster 2.5 yards per carry prior to Saturday, broke an 80-yard touchdown on the Lions’ first play from scrimmage. Freshman quarterback Sean Brackett recorded the first rushing touchdown of his career on a four-yard plunge, which was set up by an interception on Cornell’s first play from scrimmage.
However, the Red responded as senior tailback Randy Barbour woke up a silent Cornell sideline and stunned the Senior Day crowd of 4,593 with a 55-yard sprint to the end zone, his longest rush of the season. The Red knotted the game at 13-13 on its ensuing possession thanks to one of the better thrown balls by Ganter on the day, as he connected with senior wide receiver Bryan Walters in the back right corner of the end zone for the fifth time this year. Junior kicker Brad Greenway continued his struggles of late, missing the extra point attempt and sailing a 27-yard field goal attempt wide right later in the second quarter.
The Ganter to Walters connection clicked once again in the second quarter as the Red’s leading receiver eluded two Columbia defensive backs to stake Cornell to a 20-16 lead at the half.
The loss extends the Red’s losing skid to seven games while the Lions snapped a five-game losing streak with the victory. The present losing streak is the longest since the 2003 season. Coach Knowles expressed his regret for the seniors.
“It’s got to be killer. I feel terrible for them … I can’t imagine how it must feel for those guys. My heart goes out to them. I only wish I could have done more to bring them more wins, but I know we’ve done everything we can for them in terms of establishing a family, establishing alumni who care … They’ll take something from it … We just want them to know that we love them and ‘hey, these things happen.’ It’s not going to keep us down. We’re going to get back up.”