Cornell football upsets Penn in finale
Big Red quarterback Jeff Mathews breaks Ivy passing records in shootout at Franklin Field
November 19, 2011, 4:28 pm · Updated November 21, 2011, 1:29 am·
Katie Rubin | DP
Since Jeff Mathews entered the Ivy League last year, it’s been common knowledge that the Cornell quarterback has talent.
He quickly won the starting job at Cornell and garnered Rookie of the Year honors during the 2010 season. Even with all that recognition, no one could have predicted that he’d be quite this good.
On Saturday, the sophomore quarterback passed for the most yards ever in an Ivy League game in Cornell’s 48-38 victory over Penn. His 548 yards against a baffled Quakers defense also gave him the record for most in a season by an Ivy quarterback (3,412).
That a sophomore would break these records and throw for five touchdowns is noteworthy enough; that he would do it against the two-time defending Ivy League champions at Franklin Field is even more remarkable.
Mathews’ passing clinic — which coach Kent Austin called “an MVP performance” — propelled the Big Red (5-5, 3-4 Ivy) to an upset win in the season’s final game.
Playing for its seniors after Harvard clinched the title last weekend, Penn (5-5, 4-3 Ivy) simply could not find a way to stop the Cornell passing attack.
“We just didn’t have enough answers,” coach Al Bagnoli said. “We tried to pressure him and get the ball out of his hands, we tried a little zone, we tried a little man [coverage].”
Penn’s defense did force three turnovers, including an impressive pick-six by senior linebacker Erik Rask. The touchdown was the first of Rask’s career.
Senior Matt Hamscher also played well in his final game, making nine tackles, forcing a fumble and sacking Mathews twice.
But the ultimate result was Mathews’ record-setting performance in which he completed 35 of 45 pass attempts.
“It’s hard to go out your last game when that’s the stat line,” Rask said.
By most measures, the Quakers put forth a strong offensive performance.
Junior Billy Ragone passed for 253 yards, throwing for one touchdown and running for two. Penn’s 38-points scored was a season high. But when the game turned into a shootout, the Quakers could not keep pace.
A depleted Penn secondary struggled mightily to defend against the precision of the Big Red aerial attack.
“You never want to use excuses because you have to play with who you have, but we’ve lost [David] Twamley, we lost [Jason] Schmucker, we lost Evan Jackson,” Bagnoli said. “We were playing with a lot of young kids and this is not the offense or the wide receiver crew that you want to play some first-time starters and some young kids against.”
Big Red senior Shane Savage was on the receiving end of three Mathews touchdown passes, including the final one with just 1:24 left to put the game out of Penn’s reach.
So on a day that was supposed to be about Penn’s seniors, a Cornell sophomore stole the show and allowed the Big Red to accomplish what the Quakers’ could not.
“It sends our seniors off the right way,” Mathews said.