MOUNT VERNON – In 25 years in the coaching business, Cornell's Vince Brautigam can't recall a better defensive performance than the one his Rams delivered last weekend against Lake Forest.
That's what made the 17-10 loss to the defending Midwest Conference co-champions tough to swallow, after the Rams rallied and had an apparent game-tying touchdown ruled an interception in the closing seconds. The outcome pushed Cornell two games back of the conference lead with three to play.
"In football and in life, you have to overcome adversity. The real growth is that you can move forward, and that's what we're going to do," Brautigam said. "My job is to get us focused in the right direction. We have an opportunity to do great things in the next three weeks. It's got to start this week."
The Rams (4-3 overall, 4-2 MWC) travel to play the Carroll Pioneers (4-3, 3-3 MWC) Saturday for a 1 p.m. kickoff at Schneider Stadium. It's Cornell's first trip to Waukesha, Wis., since 1995.
Carroll climbed over the .500 mark last Saturday with a 37-0 shutout at Grinnell. The Pioneers have outscored their last two league foes, 85-14.
Cornell can clinch its first winning record in conference play since 2001.
Last week's dominating defensive effort saw the Rams give up a mere 87 total yards (1.7 per play) and four first downs. Lake Forest punted a school-record 12 times in the game. The Foresters' scoring drives amounted to one play for 21 yards (touchdown), four plays for two yards (field goal) and a 33-yard fumble return.
The 87 net yards allowed are the fewest by a Ram team since holding Iowa Wesleyan to 72 in a 47-0 home win in 1982.
"Our defense played as well as any game I've been associated with," Brautigam said. "They played a superb game, darn-near perfect. We gave up one big play."
On Saturday, the Rams go up against an explosive running back in junior Lamont Williams, who leads the MWC at 152.0 rushing yards per game. Williams ran 34 times for 193 yards and a touchdown against Grinnell. He has 760 yards and 9 TDs in five games this season.
"They hang their hat on their tailback. We can't give him room to run," Brautigam said. "The key to the game is who controls the line of scrimmage in the running game."
About the Pioneers – Carroll limited Grinnell to 152 total yards in last week's rout. Carroll's ground game netted 312 yards and four touchdowns. Grinnell managed just 27 yards on 31 running plays.
The Pioneers rank No. 2 in the MWC in total defense (285.1 ypg) and pass defense (150.1 ypg). They have held opposing passers to a league-low 43.8 completion percentage. Carroll has allowed only six touchdowns through the air, while collecting 18 sacks.
The series – Saturday marks just the sixth football meeting between the schools, with Carroll holding a 3-2 edge. Cornell won the first game in the series, 6-0, in 1950. Cornell's last trip to Waukesha, Wis., resulted in a 36-18 victory during the Rams' 1995 MWC championship season.
Last meeting – The Pioneers limited Cornell to 157 total yards and one offensive touchdown in a 31-14 win last year in Mount Vernon. Cornell's Juan Flores set a school record for passing yards in a season, but left the game in the first quarter due to injury and did not return.
Williams was the workhorse for Carroll, running the ball 31 times for 220 yards and three touchdowns. The Rams got within 10-7 on a 10-yard touchdown grab by Ben Knake late in the second quarter. Carroll then pulled away with 21 unanswered points.
Cornell's Geoffrey Miller scored on a 78-yard interception return with 4:39 to go. It's the longest defensive touchdown for the Rams since 2000.
Ground game – Junior Preston Ritchie rushed for a career-best 120 yards on 20 carries against Lake Forest, topping his previous high of 117 in the Oct. 5 Beloit game. He netted 81 yards in the second half with a long gain of 21. Ritchie has totaled 324 yards over his last four contests.
Ritchie's effort marked the fifth time a Cornell back has rushed for 100 yards this season. That's the most 100-yard games since 2008, when the Rams had six.
"Preston had his best game of the season. For the first time, he is fully healthy," Brautigam said. "The offensive line did a decent job blocking for him. Preston has definitely become an asset on our team."
Chain stoppers – Last week, Lake Forest converted its third first down with about a minute to play in the first quarter. The Rams did not allow another first down until the three-minute mark of the fourth quarter. That's right, Cornell forced nine consecutive three-and-outs without yielding a first down in 43 minutes of game time.
Over the last three games, Cornell has held opponents to 202 rushing yards on 111 attempts (1.8 ypr). Junior Alex Latow led the way against Lake Forest with 10 tackles, including six stops. TJ Gray had six tackles, two behind the line of scrimmage.
MWC ranks – Freshman Kaleb Whiting continues to lead all MWC kickers in scoring. He drilled his sixth field goal (34 yards) of the season and added a PAT against Lake Forest, boosting his point total to 43.
Knake is No. 1 in the league in receptions (6.3 rpg) and third in receiving yards (69.7 ypg). Flores stands second in passing yards (214.6 ypg) and total offense (261.9 ypg).
Latow and Miller are tied for third in total tackles per game (9.9). Latow is third in sacks (4.5) and fifth in tackles for loss (10.0). Jeremy Demlow ranks third in tackles for loss with 13.0.
Career receiving – Junior Justin Cox moved into ninth place on Cornell's career list for touchdown receptions with 17. He also ranks in the top 10 in career receptions (128, fifth) and receiving yards (1,608, ninth). Cox had three receptions for 27 yards last week, including an 8-yard scoring grab.