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Football seeks first Ivy League win at Cornell

The Bears aim for their sixth consecutive victory over the Big Red and its strong passing attack

The football team makes its longest road trip of the season Saturday, looking to pick up its first conference win against Cornell in Ithaca, NY.

At the season’s midpoint, the Bears’ first two conference games have looked very similar. Bruno (3-2, Ivy 0-2) has jumped out to 13-0 and 17-0 leads in the first half against Harvard (5-0, 2-0) and Princeton (4-1, 2-0) respectively, before falling to both opponents in lopsided second halves.

The most recent defeat, a 39-17 decision to Princeton last weekend, was the result of penalties and poor discipline more than the execution of plays, said Head Coach Phil Estes.

“Looking at it on film and a lot of it, we beat ourselves,” he said. “We have to have a better focus, and go in there and be more disciplined.”

Dropping two Ivy games to start the year puts added weight on getting a win against Cornell (1-4, 0-2), said cornerback Emory Polley ’14.

“The rest of our games are in conference so we really want to get some momentum going forward,” he said. “To get that first win … is really the most important thing for us right now.”

Standing in the way of Bruno’s first Ivy League win is the conference’s all-time leading passer, Big Red quarterback Jeff Matthews. Cornell’s prolific signal-caller is leading the league with 333.4 yards per game through the air this season, and is just two yards shy of becoming the first Ivy Leaguer to throw for 10,000 career yards.

“(Matthews) has a really strong arm, and he’s really disciplined. He could be looking at one side of the field and then throw it to the other,” Polley said. “The biggest thing for us is making sure we stay in coverage throughout the duration of the play.”

But the Bears defensive secondary has previously had success against the high-flying Cornell passing game. In last season’s 21-14 Bruno victory over the Big Red at home, the Bears intercepted Matthews three times and sacked him three more to hold Cornell to its second lowest point total of the season.

The Cornell offense — which runs the ball on 36.8 percent of plays, 15 percent below the league average — lines up in a lot of no-back or one-back formations, Polley said. He added that Bruno would try to control Matthews by running multiple defensive plays out of the same formation and pressuring the pocket.

The other side of the football holds some serious question marks for the Bears. The offense struggled to move the ball in the second half against Princeton, but quarterback Patrick Donnelly ’13.5 has orchestrated some impressive offensive outbursts against non-conference opponents, including 45 points against Georgetown University (1-6, Patriot 0-2), 31 against the University of Rhode Island (3-5, CAA 2-3), and 41 against Bryant University (3-4, NEC 1-1).

Offensive success against Cornell may depend on the status of running back and leading scorer John Spooney ’14. The speedster has missed time this season with injuries, and his start Saturday is questionable as he battles concussion-like symptoms.

But the possibility of a sidelined Spooney might not be as big a problem for the Bears this week, given backup running back Jordan Riesner’s ’14 track record against Cornell. Riesner was the star of last season’s contest against the Big Red, rushing for 193 yards and two touchdowns. Andrew Coke ’16 has also received significant carries in Spooney’s absences this season.

If Cornell is going to get the edge on Brown, the second quarter might be the significant period. Momentum has turned for the worse in the second quarter of each of Bruno’s conference games, and the second period is the only stanza in which Cornell has outscored their opponents this season.

The Ivy League title is all but out of reach for both squads going into Saturday, but the Big Red is sure to seek revenge for five straight Bruno victories in the rivalry.


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