MOUNT VERNON — They may have walked through the end zone collectively to get to it. But once at the big victory bell that sits on the outskirts of Ash Park, it became an individual thing.
One by one, each Cornell Rams player pulled on the bell. It was one very long and happy ring.
“We’ve definitely had opportunities to do it earlier in the season, but we just missed it,” quarterback Juan Flores said after Cornell’s 42-38 win Saturday afternoon over Knox. “It feels good to ring it finally.”
This was Cornell’s first home win of 2012 in four tries. It didn’t come easily, as the Rams had to rally from a 10-point hole in the third quarter.
Freshman D.J. Hall’s 4-yard touchdown run with 8:33 left, a defensive stop and literally being able to run the final five-plus minutes off the clock helped Cornell (3-3) match its win total of a season ago.
The Rams are 3-2 in the Midwest Conference, the first time they’ve won three conference games since 2003. Cornell left the Iowa Conference this season to rejoin the MWC.
“We fought adversity in all three games that we’ve lost this season,” Cornell Coach Vince Brautigam said. “We just haven’t made the plays to get over the hump. Today, we kept taking the lead and they’d get it back. But we were able to take it (late), the defense came through when we needed it to, and the offense was able to run the clock out.”
Defense was very much optional throughout most of this one, as the teams combined for just shy of 1,000 yards. Flores completed 26 of 34 passes for 338 yards and three TDs to continue a terrific junior season.
Cornell leads the MWC in passing, but its ability to run the football consistently for the first time this season also was critical. The Rams had 197 yards on the ground, a team-high 105 from the multithreat Flores.
“I just told the guys to just stick in there when we got behind,” Flores said. “We have a real explosive offense, we can put up points any time we want to as a unit. When we play as a unit, as one, we’re pretty much unstoppable.”
Cornell also was strong again on special teams. Preston Ritchie returned a second-quarter kickoff 78 yards for a touchdown and a fumble by Knox’s punter led to a third-quarter Rams TD.
Knox dropped to 1-6, 1-5.
“The one thing I think tipped the game our way was special teams,” Brautigam said.