When the ball left Bucknell quarterback Brandon Wesley’s hand from the 14-yard line with 40 seconds left on the clock, it looked like a dismal day for Cornell’s offense would end in a last-second miracle for the Bison. But just as it had so many times on Saturday, the Red’s secondary stepped up. Sophomore cornerback Michael Turner was there to swat the pass away before it could find a receiver’s hands, handing the Red a narrow 15-10 victory.
In a contest where the offense connected for 299 passing yards and zero passing touchdowns, Turner and the rest of the defensive secondary were really the story of the game.
“[Turner] stepped up a lot, he has always been a factor for us,” said sophomore safety Rush Miller, who had eight tackles and one broken up pass in the game. “I feel like he’s stepped up into a role as a playmaker and it’s extremely important for us to have that kind of depth at cornerback.”
Turner was actually filling in for freshman Jarrod Watson-Lewis, who started at the position in the first two games. Turner made the most of his time there, recording seven tackles and blocking the pass that could have potentially ended the game.
He was not the only fill-in to make an important impact on the win, though. On the Red’s fake punt attempt, punter and backup quarterback Sam Wood connected on a short pass to junior safety Kevin Laird, who ran for 21 yards up the left sideline before being hit hard.
“I took the ball up the sideline and got hit hard and low and it took out my knee,” Laird said of his injury. Though he has not gotten a final word on the injury yet, Laird believes it to be a torn ACL and is anticipating being out for the rest of the season. Laird has had an impressive first three games, including two interceptions in the first game against Fordham, and four tackles and the 21-yard run against Bucknell.
Though his presence will be missed in the secondary, Miller and Laird are confident that junior safety Brian Gee — who came in to replace Laird on Saturday — is prepared to fill the gap.
“Brian Gee will step up, he comes in and brings a lot of energy to revitalize our defense, so we will definitely not be taking a step back,” Miller said.
Gee had five tackles and two broken up passes against the Bison in his first appearance of the season.
Laird also expressed the utmost confidence in Gee’s ability to be his replacement.
“Coach Austin has stressed that we don’t expect any lapse in performance from our second and third string players,” he said. “Gee came in and made some plays in the second half that really saved the win for us.”
Though much of the talk after the Red’s decisive homecoming win a weekend ago was about Mathews’ stellar passing performance and freshman Luke Hagy’s two rushing touchdowns, the defense was arguably even more important. The defensive line and the secondary held Yale to only 350 total offensive yards and forced two fumbles and two interceptions.
Though the secondary may have taken a backseat to the offense at the beginning of the season, according to Miller, they are unfazed and will continue to prove their worth.
“To us, honestly, it’s just what we do,” Miller said. “This is what should be expected of us, we shouldn’t have to rely on the offense. [The Bucknell game] was just a launching pad, a starting point for us to take off from.”
Laird agreed, pointing out that it will be important for the squad to show the rest of the league that they should not only be worried about the Red’s explosive offense.
“[Defensive Coordinator Kim] Dameron has stressed being a physical and hard hitting defense,” he said. “The past couple weeks we have proven to the league that it is not just our offense. They can have a mediocre offensive day like Saturday, and we can pick up the slack, which we weren’t able to do in the past, so it’s like night and day for us this year.”
However, the secondary has a long season ahead of it to continue proving that to the rest of the Ancient Eight. The first obstacle in the way happens to be reigning champions Harvard, who are undefeated so far this season. The Crimson offense has also combined for 125 points in its first three games, and will be an especially formidable opponent for the secondary.
“Every Ivy League game is basically a championship game, we can’t afford to have a bad game,” Laird said.
The squad has already begun planning out its approach for combating the combination of quarterback Colton Chapple — who has thrown for 820 yards — and the receiving duo of Kyle Juszczyk and Cameron Brate, which has five total touchdowns.
“Everybody that plays and even guys that don’t were watching film and getting their mind right today. The coaches are putting together a great game plan,” Miller said. “We’re going to do everything possible to make sure we come out of Harvard’s stadium with a win.”