The Cornell football program has gotten used to winning thanks to its resilience. The 2023 team showed it’s comfortable playing that same game.
The Big Red made its season opener one to remember, topping Lehigh 23-20 on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Goodman Stadium. Cornell upped its non-conference win streak to five with the triumph, while the Mountain Hawks fell to 1-2. Over the past two seasons, Cornell’s six wins (6-5) have come by a total of 23 points.
Junior quarterback Jameson Wang completed 19-of-31 passes for 293 yards and a touchdown and ran for 85 more to pace the offense, senior linebacker Holt Fletcher intercepted two passes and senior Jackson Kennedy made three field goals and launched an 81-yard punt in a game that saw multiple players earn the spotlight. Senior Manny Adebi, who led the nation in blocked kicks a year ago, blocked a key fourth quarter PAT and Davon Kiser posted his first 100-yard receiving game with 141 yards on four catches as part of a day with 231 all-purpose yards.
When the dust settled, a dominant first quarter on both sides of the ball, a huge time of possession advantage and a defense that was sensational all afternoon gave the Big Red the win.
Cornell jumped out to a 17-0 lead, didn’t allow a Lehigh first down until the final five minutes of the first half and surrendered just 239 yards while forcing a pair of turnovers. The Big Red gave up 14 yards or fewer on 9-of-12 Lehigh possessions, with the home team scoring 13 points and piling up 128 of its yards on its final two drives of the contest when down two possessions.
• After trading punts on the first possessions, Cornell struck first with Wang going up top to Kiser for a 37-yard score on its second possession, staking it to a 7-0 lead.
• The Big Red defense was stout, allowing zero first downs and 14 total yards on Lehigh’s first two possessions, and just 20 yards and zero first downs on its first five.
• A 68-yard bomb from Wang to Kiser set up Cornell’s second scoring drive that culminated in an acrobatic 20-yard pass to Parker Woodring.
• As the first quarter came to a close, Cornell had converted on three third downs, more than Lehigh had surrendered all season (two).
• The Big Red milked nearly the entire second quarter clock, holding the ball for more than 12 minutes.
• A 47-yard drive late in the first quarter culminated in a Jackson Kennedy 32-yard field goal to up the Big Red’s lead to 17-0.
• Nicholas Laboy had two catches for 37 yards to highlight the drive.
• Lehigh answered right back with its first sustained drive of the day, marching 65 yards on seven plays with Luke Yoder cashing in from 2 yards out to get within 17-7 at the break.
• Though there was no scoring, there were plenty of big plays to start the second half.
• Paul Lewis ended Lehigh’s first drive single handedly with consecutive pass breakup and sack.
• A three-and-out by the offense on Cornell’s first drive still resulted in a highlight of the night, as Kennedy’s 81-yard punt to the Lehigh 5 flipped the field.
• The punt was the second-longest in school history, behind only Bob Dean’s 88-yard boomer against Colgate in 1948.
• Lehigh made a pair of fourth-down stops, including a fourth-and-goal from the 1, to keep the Big Red at bay.
• Cornell started the fireworks in the final 15 minutes, as Holt Fletcher collected his second interception in less than seven minutes of game time to set up a short field and eventually a 27-yard field goal by Kennedy to stretch the lead to 20-7 with 12:02 left in regulation.
• Lehigh put its second touchdown of the game on the board with a 13-play, 65-yard drive that ate up 4:02 and resulted in a Brayten Silbor 4-yard run to get the Mountain Hawks back within 20-14.
• The Big Red stretched the lead to nine by putting the ball in Jameson Wang’s hands.
• The senior was involved in nine consecutive plays to start a drive to ended with a 29-yard field goal from Kennedy, his third of the game to push it back to 23-14.
• Not only did the drive put points on the board, but it also erased 4:45 from the clock.
• Taking over with 3:01 left, Lehigh’s offense went back to work, eventually finding paydirt on an 8-yard pass from Silbor to Geoffrey Jamiel.
• The extra-point was blocked by Manny Adebi, his fifth career blocked kick in just seven games.
• Needing to just recover the on-sides kick with 72 seconds left, Brody Kidwell fell on the ball and the Big Red celebrated the victory.
• The Big Red remains on the road next week to open the conference slate against Yale. on Saturday, Sept. 23 at 12 p.m. in New Haven, Conn.
• Cornell opens its home campaign against Colgate on Saturday, Sept. 30, at 2 p.m. at Schoellkopf Field as the team celebrates Homecoming 2023.