MOUNT VERNON – The season's first snow that blanketed Ash Park Field Tuesday will be long gone by this weekend, clearing the way for two football teams looking to remain in the Midwest Conference title hunt.
Coach Vince Brautigam's Rams (4-2 overall, 4-1 MWC) take on defending MWC co-champion Lake Forest (6-1, 5-1) Saturday in a 1 p.m. kickoff at Ash Park Stadium.
The Rams and Foresters are chasing MWC unbeatens St. Norbert (6-0) and Illinois College (5-0). St. Norbert is idle Saturday, while Illinois College hosts 1-5 Knox.
"Here are two teams that have progressively gotten better and need this game on Saturday," Brautigam said. "It's going to be a great Division III football game. It's going to be a physical game, and a fun game to play in. Plus, we both have something on the line. The winner has a chance to be there in the end."
Cornell has a chance to secure its first .500 season since 2001. The Rams ride momentum from last week's 45-14 win at Knox. It was the team's third 40-point outing of the fall.
Lake Forest won in typical Lake Forest fashion, 17-14, at home against Monmouth. The Foresters allowed just 190 total yards and punched in the decisive touchdown that made it a 17-7 game with 3:11 to go. It was Lake Forest's fifth MWC win this season decided by single digits.
"Lake Forest is a physical, well-coached football team," Brautigam said. "Their defense has been playing extremely well and their special teams have been real consistent. They look to control the line of scrimmage and they don't make mistakes. We've got our work cut out for us."
Cornell's defense last weekend collected six turnovers (five fumbles) and blocked two punts, both by junior Preston Ritchie. The Rams turned those miscues into 28 points. Cornell's average starting field position was its own 47-yard line.
The Rams are +3 in turnover margin on the year. Meanwhile, Lake Forest ranks fourth nationally with 22 total takeaways. The Foresters have intercepted 15 passes, third-most in Division III.
"Saturday is going to be a game of field position and turnovers," Brautigam said. "Those two things will determine who wins this game."
About the Foresters – Lake Forest returns nine defensive starters from last year's 8-2 team that claimed a share of the MWC championship. The Foresters lead the league in rush defense (101.1 ypg) and rank second in total defense (288.7 ypg). The unit has recorded 18 sacks.
Lake Forest's lone season blemish was a 55-7 loss at Illinois College two weeks ago. The Blueboys are the only team to score more than 15 points against Lake Forest this year.
Senior quarterback Mike Lewis has thrown for 1,022 yards and nine touchdowns. His top target is Mike Peters with 31 grabs. Freshman Charlie Quinn heads the ground game with 358 yards and two scores.
The series – The Rams own an 8-2 lead in the series, averaging 36.3 points in those wins. Cornell coasted to a 42-0 victory in the teams' first meeting in 1974. Lake Forest's lone win in Mount Vernon was 13-10 in 1983.
Last meeting – The Foresters controlled the first 2 1/2 quarters and then held on for a 35-30 win last year in Lake Forest, Ill. Trailing 28-7, Cornell made a game of it with three touchdowns and a safety in the final 20 minutes.
Cornell outgained the Foresters in total yards, 431-408, but turned the ball over three times. Justin Cox led the Rams with 11 catches for 104 yards and a touchdown. Lake Forest quarterback Pete Scaffidi rushed for two touchdowns and passed for two more.
Passing precision – Cornell senior quarterback Juan Flores continued his assault on the school-record book with a near-spotless 19-of-20 passing performance against Knox. Flores' 95.0-percent completion rate set a single-game record, topping his own 15-of-18 effort (83.3 percent) Oct. 5 against Beloit.
Flores has completed 71.1 percent (113-of-159) of his passes this season, ranking ninth nationally. He is Cornell's career leader for completion percentage at 62.9 (563-of-894).
Century mark – Sophomore Ethan Thompson rushed for 106 yards on just 11 carries at Knox. It was his second 100-yard game of this month, after going for a career-high 143 against Beloit. Thompson has netted 512 yards on the year, averaging 5.8 yards per rush.
Ben Knake went over 100 yards receiving for the second time this year, and fourth time of his career. The sophomore finished with 101 yards on 11 receptions at Knox, including a 19-yard touchdown. Knake is No. 1 in the MWC in receptions per game (6.3) and second in receiving yards (74.3 ypg).
Touchdown, Flores – The Flores touchdown meter reached 59 last week after he ran for four TDs and passed for another. Flores had scoring runs of 1, 9, 1 and 6 yards, becoming the first Ram to total four rushing TDs in a game since Brett McAllister in 1999 (against William Penn).
Flores' fourth-quarter strike to Knake was his 40th career touchdown pass. That moved Flores past Chris Lovely (39 TDs, 2000-03) for fourth place on Cornell's career list.
Ram D – Cornell's defense has yet to allow a first-quarter touchdown this season. In fact, the Rams have outscored opponents by a staggering 59-3 margin in the first quarter of all games.
Although last Saturday it was a 24-0 second half that carried Cornell to victory. The Rams yielded just 87 yards to Knox after intermission. Geoffrey Miller led the unit with 14 total stops, 3.0 tackles for loss and 1.0 sack. The senior linebacker is second in the MWC at 11.0 tackles per game.
The six takeaways against Knox are the most by a Ram team since collecting nine in a 2003 contest. Alex Latow had two fumble recoveries and also forced a fumble. Aaron Gruwell had an interception and return of 23 yards.