Fifth Down Game (1940)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
The Fifth Down Game
1234 Total
Cornell 0000 0
Dartmouth 0003 3
DateNovember 16, 1940
StadiumMemorial Field
LocationHanover, N.H.

The Fifth Down Game is a college football game that was conceded by the victor after films confirmed that errors by the game officials had allowed an unpermitted fifth down as the last play of the game.


In American football, a team is allowed four attempts or "downs" to move the ball 10 yards (9.14 m) or towards the goal line. If the offense moves ten yards in four attempts or fewer, it gains a "first down," which restarts the process. If, after four attempts, the offense has neither scored nor gained ten yards, the other team is given possession of the ball. Under normal circumstances (for example, excluding penalties which can involve replaying a down), no team is supposed to be allowed five attempts.

The Fifth-Down Game of November 16, 1940[edit]

Cornell entered the contest with 18 straight victories over a two-year period.

Dartmouth would manage to hold off Cornell's offense for nearly the entire low-scoring game. Dartmouth scored first, achieving a field goal for three points in the fourth quarter.

Finally, with less than a minute left in the game, Cornell got the ball on Dartmouth's six-yard line. Cornell expected to have four chances to win the game. On its first down, fullback Mort Landsberg gained three yards. On its second down, Cornell halfback Walt Scholl managed to run the ball to the one-yard line. On the third down, Mort Landsberg tried to run up the middle but did not gain more than a few inches. On the fourth down, Cornell was penalized for delay of game, and Referee Red Friesell spotted the ball just over the 5-yard line in order to replay the fourth down. With nine seconds left on the clock, quarterback "Pop" Scholl threw an incomplete pass into the end zone. Normally, the ball would have gone to Dartmouth, which would have used up the remaining seconds and won the game, 3–0.

But following the fourth down, Linesman Joe McKenney signaled that it was first down and that the ball should go to Dartmouth at the 20 yard line. Referee Friesell did not agree and gave the ball to Cornell and placed it on the six-yard line on fourth down when in actuality it was "fifth" down. Making the most of the unexpected opportunity, quarterback Scholl threw a touchdown pass to William Murphy, and following the extra-point kick, Cornell won the game 7–3.

The forfeit[edit]

Officials discovered their error after reviewing the game films. Cornell's players, coach Carl Snavely, acting athletic director Bob Kane, and President Edmund Ezra Day, a Dartmouth alumnus, agreed that Cornell should send a telegram to Dartmouth offering to forfeit the game. Dartmouth accepted.


Although there is some doubt whether the 1940 Cornell forfeit was "official" according to NCAA rules, the game is regarded as a 3–0 Dartmouth victory, instead of a 7–3 triumph by Cornell.[1] This is described as the only time in the history of football that a game was decided off the field.[by whom?]

The New York Times NFL sports blog "The Fifth Down" is named in part after the incident in this game.[citation needed]


  • Cory Bennett, "Part II: The Fifth-Down Game," The Cornell Daily Sun (November 8, 2007) [1]
  • Cory Bennett, "Part III: The Nation Reacts in Wake of Concession," The Cornell Daily Sun (November 8, 2007) [2]
  • "The Infamous Fifth Down: Cornell vs. Dartmouth," YouTube [3]
  • Beano Cook, "Beano Cook's top 10 moments in college football," ESPN.Com [4]


  1. ^ "Cornell Big Red hosts Dartmouth Big Green". Archived from the original on November 24, 2005. Retrieved 2006-11-21.