Sports

Football to battle Big Red for Ivy win

Lackluster Cornell struggles on both sides of ball, potentially providing opportunity for Bruno

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, October 24, 2014

The football team may still be winless in the Ivy League, but there’s no cause to panic just yet.

The Bears (2-3, 0-2 Ivy) will look to rebound from their loss to Princeton when they come home this weekend to host Cornell (0-5, 0-2).

An 0-2 mark in conference is always alarming, but the Bears have already played the two 2013 co-champions of the conference, and outplayed both over large stretches of the game. In their game against Harvard, a weak fourth quarter in which the Bears were outscored 9-0 cost them the lead and the win at home. Against Princeton, the Tigers grabbed a 24-0 lead shortly after the first quarter, and the Bruno offense could not score enough to get itself back in the game.

Head Coach Phil Estes P’18 seems to have learned the lessons from his team’s defeats.

“We need to start fast. We need to be able to finish,” he said.

The Bears are concerned with finishing drives as well as games. They brought the ball to Princeton’s red zone five times last weekend, but only found the end zone once.

“I’m thinking touchdowns, not field goals,” Estes said. “If we’re going to win football games, we have to put more points on the board, and we have to do it earlier in the game.”

Bruno’s two Ivy losses consisted of six excellent quarters and two poor ones. While the bad has outweighed the good, there is plenty of reason to believe the Bears are still a strong team despite their winless conference record. A lesser team would never lead Harvard in the fourth quarter or outgain Princeton by nearly 200 yards for three quarters on the road.

Estes opined that the team’s two losses “don’t change a thing.”

“We’ll see how it shakes out at the end,” he added. “I think the big thing for us isn’t to focus on where we’ll be at the end of the season, it’s to focus on where we’ll be on Saturday, and get that win and go from there.”

“We knew (Harvard and Princeton) were going to be two of the toughest teams we play all year,” said co-captain and linebacker Dan Giovacchini ’15. “There’s still a lot of football to be played,” he noted.

Starting quarterback Marcus Fuller ’15 agreed with his fellow captain’s assessment. “All we can do is take it one game at a time,” he said.

With their focus in the short term, the Bears have their sights set on Saturday, when winless Cornell comes to College Hill.

The Big Red looked particularly listless recently in a pair of conference losses. Playing host to Yale, Cornell was blown out of the water by a score of 51-13. A trip to Cambridge the next week did not go much better, as the Crimson steamrolled them, 24-7.

Offense has been the Big Red’s main weakness, averaging a paltry 10.6 points per game. The team scored a season-high 14 points against Lehigh University last weekend, who had been winless before beating Cornell by 17 in the latter’s homecoming game. The Mountain Hawks’ defense had allowed 45 or more points in three of its previous five games before shutting down the Big Red.

Cornell’s defense is not much better, allowing 30.6 points per game on average and failing to hold any opponent to under 20. The team’s results in its first five games have not been pretty, but the Bears know better than to take any team lightly.

“Cornell is no slouch,” Fuller said. “It’s going to be a challenge.”

Estes was similarly complimentary, saying the Big Red is “a good defensive team” that is “still trying to find (itself) offensively.”

The Bears have done their homework in considering strategy. Estes contrasted the Big Red’s offense to the fast-paced attacks from the Tigers and Crimson, but noted “their defense is similar to Princeton’s.”

Speaking about why Bruno passed so much last week — an Ivy League-record 71 times — Estes said, “We liked what we saw in the pass game. There were some matchups we really liked, and we tried to take advantage of them to get the big play.” If the Bears see the same things in Cornell’s defense that they saw in Princeton’s, Fuller may make a run at the record for the second straight week.

As would be expected from any team struggling to move the ball, the Big Red has been “unpredictable” in its offensive strategy, according to Giovacchini. He added that the Bruno defense is “going into the game not entirely sure what to expect.”

A home game against a struggling team is about as favorable a matchup as one can hope for, so Saturday will be a make-or-break contest for the Bears. A win will keep Bruno on the edges of the hunt, and a relatively soft upcoming schedule will set up a favorable stretch run. But a home loss to the Big Red would spell doom for this year, fully extinguishing any Ivy title hopes and perhaps portending a final record of 4-6 or worse.

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