The fans, students, and players for Cornell High School had hope. Their team made it to the playoffs. There was buzz around Coraopolis and Neville Island. Nobody knew how long they would have to wait. The team made an early exit from the playoffs that turned out to feel like an eternity.
Cornell went four years without a football team. The school seemed to have lost a huge part of its heart, its spirit. The players, if they wanted to, could go and play for Quaker Valley’s football team, but it just wasn’t the same. It didn’t feel right for anyone, especially the players. They loved football, but they didn’t really want to play for Quaker Valley, they wanted to play for Cornell. I had never heard of that before. No matter how much some students hate the school; there still is some pride deep down. Sports give students a connection to the school. It is about the only thing that can bring out the pride. They play for the students, themselves, the teachers, their parents, and the community as a whole. They stuck together and fought to bring back football, and they succeeded for all of us.
They always tried their hardest to convince anyone and everyone to sign up for football. Some did, and some didn’t. Almost miraculously, they finally had enough people to support a football team. Football is back. It gave us something to look forward to; it earned the football players respect. Everyone knows who they are. They are always wearing blue and gold.
They are more than just a team; they are a family. They show this on the field; they work hard not for themselves, but each other. They all love the game of football. They all watch it on their phones and televisions. They play the video games. Everything to them is football. The team does their pump-up chant before practice, after practice, before the game, and after the game. They trust each other and believe in each other. The team is committed. That is what Coach Dawson talks about--staying committed. He doesn’t want anyone on the team to give up, no matter how hard practice is, or if they lose the game, and they follow that. They power through the ups and downs of sports.
I was able to sit in and observe the practice the day before the first game. You could see the excitement in the players because they knew that there was just one more sleep before they put on the blue and gold uniform. The players had a little extra jump. They took bigger strides in their running. The coaches went over some plays that they would use specifically against their opponents based on their strengths and weaknesses.
The player who stood out the most at practice was Keyyron Sharpe. He plays defensive end and wide receiver. Specifically, what stood out to me was wide receiver. He caught three 30 yard passes down the sideline showing exceptional skill in keeping his feet in bounds and keeping control of the ball. This isn’t to say that there wasn’t anyone else who stood out, but Keyyron had the most potential that day.
For the weaknesses, they practiced recovering short kickoffs. The opponent doesn’t fair well in that aspect. They also tried to set a way to defend against their opponents biggest strong point, the running game. Now, all they had to do was execute their plan.
A few hours before the start of the game, the team got together and enjoyed a spaghetti dinner. A few players’ parents were responsible for bringing that together.
All spectators at the game were allowed free admission to the game. There was a huge turnout at the game and a lot of blue and gold shirts in the crowd. The crowd was loud and excited for their friends, siblings, and future of the community. The concession stand sold out at the beginning of the fourth quarter. The Raiders were ready to take on the Mapletown Maples.
The Raiders gained first possession of the game. They started off with a lot of energy, but it was apparent that there were problems that would nag them all game. The offensive line struggled to protect freshman quarterback Zaier Harrison. Even if he got the ball, he would still get hit. This is a major risk of injury. The Maples got on the board first with an 86 yard touchdown run from running back Dylan Rush, but they were unable to convert on the two-point conversion.
The Raiders took the ball and drove down the field until Harrison threw a pass into the end zone to Nevin Donahue for a touchdown. The crowd erupted. Everyone was happy; it was official; football was back. That swiftly shifted into disappointment; the referee threw his bright yellow flag onto the field. The touchdown was called back due to an offensive penalty. The Raiders punted the ball away.
The Cornell defense had no answer for the running game. Rush was able to run all over the field, but when Mapletown passed the ball, Cornell was ready. The first passing play by Mapletown was intercepted by Antonio Gary, and the third passing play was intercepted by Justin Walsh. That was about it for the Cornell Raiders success.
Midway through the third quarter, Zaier Harrison had to be helped off of the field after tweaking his ankle. He would spend the rest of the game on crutches on the sideline. Freshman backup quarterback Blaine Sams took over for him and completed a few passes until he was taken out of the game temporarily with an injury as well. However, he shortly returned to the field. Harrison is expected to play in the next game.
For the rest of the game, both the offensive and defensive lines struggled. Dylan Rush added two more touchdowns for Mapletown. The Raiders failed to add any points to their side of the scoreboard. The final seconds ticked off the clock. The final score, Mapletown Maples 18 and nothing for the Cornell Raiders.
The standout for the game was RB/LB Antonio Gary. He added a few tackles to his interception including one that stopped the Maples RB in the backfield. He was one of the bright lights in a very dark game for the Cornell Raiders.
The Raiders next game will be Saturday Sept. 10th at Western Beaver. The game will take place at 12:30 p.m. Go Raiders!