MOUNT VERNON — Games like these will be Cornell’s in a couple of years. Maybe even next year, or later this year.
That’s when all the freshmen and sophomores on the two-deeps will be grown up enough to figure out how to win. Until then, the Rams apparently will have to settle for close.
At least they did Saturday afternoon, as Monmouth hung on for a 31-28 win at blustery Ash Park.
“If we want to be a champion or win a championship, we’ve got to go out and earn it. Nobody’s going to give it to us,” Cornell Coach Vince Brautigam said. “Until we learn how to finish things off better, until we can face adversity head on and take advantage of situations, then we’re going to struggle to be a championship team.”
This one hurt, as you could tell by the dejected faces of players and coaches. The Rams won their Midwest Conference re-debut three weeks ago and had a win over the preseason league in sight Saturday.
But they left points on the field in the first half and couldn’t stop Monmouth running back Trey Yocum in the second. The 6-foot, 200-pound Yocum carried 32 times for 176 yards and two touchdowns, most of those yards coming straight up the middle.
“We had a little conversation during the game about how sore we were both going to be tomorrow,” said Cornell safety Nick Brautigam, who had a whopping 19 tackles, 15 solo. “All respect given to him. He’s a heck of a running back. Definitely the most physical running back I’ve seen.”
Monmouth (2-1, 2-0) was outplayed most of the first half but still walked away with a 14-6 halftime lead. Cornell (1-2, 1-1) missed an extra point and field goal, had a drive stall at the Fighting Scots 22 and lost a fumble after a 20-yard pass play inside Monmouth territory.
“We moved the ball between the 20s and didn’t finish off drives,” Coach Brautigam said. “Special teams hurt us.”
But special teams also helped them. The Rams blocked two second-half punts to give themselves a chance at a comeback.
Kenny Smith ran the first one back 10 yards for a third-quarter touchdown. The second came late in the fourth and was followed by a TD pass from Juan Flores to Justin Cox.
They also connected on an ensuing two-point pass that made it 31-28 with 2:25 left. But Monmouth recovered an onside kick, gained a first down and ran out the clock.
“We’re that close,” said receiver Ben Knake, the freshman from Lisbon who had 13 catches for 146 yards. “We’re young, so we’ve just got to learn from this and move on.”
Here is the game boxscore: