MOUNT VERNON – The game statistics heavily favored the Rams, but it was an opportunistic Lake Forest team that came out ahead on the scoreboard, 17-10, Saturday afternoon at Ash Park Field.
The Foresters took away an interception on a bang-bang play in the end zone with six seconds left to escape with the Midwest Conference victory. Lake Forest (7-1 overall, 6-1 MWC) managed next-to-nothing offensively, although collected five key turnovers to knock the Rams (4-3 overall, 4-2 MWC) out of the MWC title hunt.
"In championship-type games, it comes down to taking care of the football," Cornell coach Vince Brautigam said. "Our kids showed resiliency, to turn the ball over five times and still have an opportunity to take it into overtime. A few years ago, we never would have been in that position."
Cornell held the defending MWC co-champions to a paltry 87 total yards and four first downs. Meanwhile, the Rams gained 345 yards and totaled 21 first downs. The contest witnessed 21 punts, 12 by Lake Forest.
Lake Forest scored all 17 of its points following Ram turnovers. The Foresters picked off four passes and also recovered a fumble.
Trailing 17-3, the Rams made a late charge and had a chance in the end. Junior Justin Cox caught an 8-yard touchdown pass from Juan Flores that brought Cornell within 17-10 with 3:49 remaining.
On the ensuing possession, Lake Forest rushed for one first down – its only one of the second half – before punting the ball back to the Rams. Cornell regained possession at its own 44-yard line with 42 seconds to go.
Cornell quickly drove down field, and after a Martin Arispe 11-yard reception, got within striking distance at the Forester 18. After two incompletions, Flores lofted a third-down pass into the end zone for Cox. The Ram wideout went high for the ball, and momentarily had it in both hands in a battle with cornerback Nick Waters. Both players tumbled to the turf, and after the bodies were separated, Waters was awarded the game-saving interception.
The outcome spoiled a valiant effort by Cornell's defense, which in the second half allowed only 19 yards on 22 plays. For the game, Lake Forest averaged just 1.7 yards per offensive play. The Foresters' ground game was limited to 31 yards on 28 carries.
"It was a defensive battle, and our defense played a superb game," Brautigam said. "It's unfortunate we didn't get the call in the end zone. On film it showed we caught the ball. Everybody wants to talk about the last play of the game. But the game didn't come down to one play."
Cornell was intercepted on its first drive of the game, and one play later Lake Forest went up 7-0 on a 21-yard touchdown pass. Kaleb Whiting booted a 34-yard field that pulled the Rams within 7-3 with 6:25 left in the first quarter.
Lake Forest pushed the lead to 17-3 in the third quarter on a short field goal, followed 15 seconds later by a 33-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
Junior linebacker Alex Latow led the Ram defense with 10 tackles. TJ Gray had six tackles, including two for losses. Shane McNally recorded four tackles and a sack.
Cornell junior Preston Ritchie rushed for a career-high 120 yards on 20 carries. Flores finished 17-of-35 passing for 155 yards. Ben Knake had a team-high six receptions for 45 yards.
The Rams travel to play Carroll (4-3, 3-3 MWC) next Saturday, Nov. 2, in Waukesha, Wis. Carroll posted a 37-0 shutout at Grinnell.