Cornell’s football team enjoyed a triumphant return to the Midwest Conference, rallying back from three fourth-quarter deficits and then surviving a late Lawrence drive for a 41-39 victory Saturday at the Banta Bowl.
Junior quarterback Juan Flores accounted for five touchdowns, the last coming on a 56-yard strike to Brennan Stine that held up as the game-winner with 1 minute, 47 seconds remaining. The Rams endured some anxious moments at the end before coming out victorious after a Lawrence 27-yard field goal missed wide left on the game’s final play.
The fourth quarter alone featured five lead changes. The Rams trailed 12-0 after one quarter, 25-14 at halftime. It was a wild welcome back in the league that Cornell last played a football game in 1996.
“Our expectation is to win. We found a way to win the football game. This was exciting,” said head coach Vince Brautigam, whose program improved to 11-2 in season openers since 2000. “It was a hard-hitting game and our guys battled back all day long. It was a great team effort.”
Flores finished his big day 17-of-25 passing for 300 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for a pair of scores. Flores led the Rams on four touchdown drives in the final 23 minutes, starting with a 39-yard connection to Justin Cox that pulled Cornell to within 25-21 midway through the third quarter.
Flores’ 11-yard touchdown run gave Cornell its first lead of the game at 28-25 with 13:59 remaining. After the Vikings (0-1) answered with a TD, Stine pulled in a 14-yard touchdown pass that put the Rams back ahead 35-32 with 7:44 to go. The Vikings countered again with a short scoring run, giving the hosts a 39-35 advantage.
The quick-strike Rams had one last smarch left in them, this one covering 67 yards on just four plays. On 1st-and-10 from the Cornell 44, Flores found Stine open in the middle of the field and Stine took it the distance for the decisive score.
Stine finished with three catches for 88 yards, including his first two collegiate touchdown receptions. Cox led all Ram receivers with six grabs for 139 yards. Ben Knake caught three balls for 16 yards.
“Our receivers had a big day,” Brautigam said. “But just as important, they did a good job blocking for our running backs.”
The Cornell running game got a first-half spark from Preston Ritchie, who finished the game with 48 yards on eight carries. Freshman D.J. Hall came on in the second half and rushed seven times for 68 yards, good for a 9.7 average. Cal Huber added an 8-yard scoring run in the second quarter.
Junior linebacker Geoffrey Miller tied a school record with 22 total tackles. He was in on 11 solo stops. Jeremy Demlow finished with 14 tackles, followed by Alex Latow with nine. Jeffery Bollnow had 1.5 tackles for loss.
The Rams rolled up 420 yards of total offense, to Lawrence’s 539. The Vikings owned a 31-22 edge in first downs, and held a 15-plus minute advantage in time of possession.