WPIAL Football Team of the Week: Week 8
Monday, October 21, 2019 | 9:49 PM
In 2016 and 2017, Cornell finished a combined 1-17. Those were the first two years back after the football program took a four-year hiatus.
Now the Raiders are 7-1 and will be playing for a share of the conference championship Friday.
“Every day we stress this is a marathon not a sprint,” Cornell coach Ed Dawson said. “We have been building for this type of season from the beginning.
“The players and parents understood that this is a grinding process, that it was not for everyone. We stayed the course. Support from the administration and community has also been a key.”
Cornell started turning it around last year when it finished 4-5 overall and in fifth place in the Class A Big 7 Conference.
The Raiders won their first two games this season and then they lost a heartbreaker to conference champion Sto-Rox, 28-25.
Since the Week 3 loss, Cornell has won five straight, two by shutout, including last week’s 8-0 overtime victory over playoff-bound Greensburg Central Catholic.
“We have taken on a piranha mentality here at Cornell,” Dawson said. “We aren’t the biggest, but we play hard and swarm fast to the ball. We score points, but the defense has been fun to watch this season for sure.”
In this day and age of spread offenses and lots of points in nearly every game on Friday nights around the WPIAL, the Cornell against Greensburg Central Catholic game was a throwback of sorts.
When was the last time a district game finished regulation scoreless in a game not affected by weather?
“It was odd at first, but we take a lot of pride in our defense,” Dawson said. “They have a really good kicker and we just wanted to make sure we didn’t lose 3-0.”
Star senior quarterback Zaire Harrison scored from 10 yards out in overtime and the Raiders converted the 2-point conversion before stopping GCC to seal the deal on a rare 8-0 victory.
Harrison has been incredible this fall for the Raiders. He has over 2,000 yards from scrimmage and leads the team in passing and rushing. He has 21 touchdown passes and 13 scoring runs.
“Four years of watching him grow into one of the best all-around players in the WPIAL has been awesome,” Dawson said. “He does it all for our team in all three phases of the game. He is smart and patient, yet physical.”
The nonconference victory was a good challenge for both teams, who later found out they had clinched Class A postseason berths. It is the first time for Cornell in the WPIAL football playoffs since 2011.
“We have been just focusing on one game at a time and not worrying about next week until next week,” Dawson said. “There was no talk of a seeding. We want to win every game and let the rest work itself out.”
Next week is this Friday when the Raiders close out the regular season against rival Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.
Both Cornell and defending district champion OLSH have clinched. The winner of this game finishes second in the Big 7 and will share the conference crown with Sto-Rox and possibly host a quarterfinal playoff game.
The loser will be third and qualify with a wild card.
“Friday we need to continue to approach each game as a faceless opponent,” Dawson said. “We have to keep emotions out of the game and execute. But I promise, we won’t be pushed around as we have in past seasons.”
No matter how Friday and the postseason work out, football is back at Cornell.
“There is a great buzz about the building and in the community,” Dawson said. “It’s great to see the pride building for Cornell football. But we are not just satisfied making it. We want to win it all.”
2019 Trib HSSN football teams of the week:
Don Rebel hosts the Rebel Yell podcasts for HSSN.