116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MOUNT VERNON — Cornell College football coach Dan Pifer laughed when he described working with a young team.
Results vary from week to week and he’s ridden a roller coaster the first two weeks, from a season-opening loss to a dominant victory last week. The frustration and fun of the learning curve for a roster that includes 67 underclassmen.
“Young kids bounced back and made some improvements and adjustments,” said Pifer, the third-year Rams head coach in just his second season. “We cut down on our mental mistakes and it showed on Saturday.”
The Rams recorded their first victory of the season, handling Beloit College, 35-14, on the road in the Midwest Conference opener. Cornell will attempt to make gains and continue its success against Ripon College Saturday at Ash Park.
“We had some young guys grow,” Pifer said. “They always say you make your biggest improvement from Week 1 to Week 2. I think we did that and settled down. We played up to the level of football we can play.”
The Rams have also been tested by injury, forcing younger players onto the field. They have stepped in and stepped up when called. Third-string quarterback John Smith saw action against Coe and received his first college start last week.
Cornell has already lost eight starters to season-ending injuries.
“We’re beat up, that’s for sure,” Pifer said. “I’ve never had this many kids out for the year in all my life of coaching in 20-some years. It’s crazy. I haven’t seen anything like it.”
Despite injury and inexperience, the Rams established the rush and ran over Beloit. They amassed 342 yards rushing and four touchdowns. The offensive line is the team’s most-veteran unit, blocking for a running-back-by-committee attack. Seven Rams had at least two carries.
The backfield was led by freshman Joel Lacy. The former New London prep produced a huge game, rushing for a game-high 155 yards, showing his versatility with touchdown runs of 58 and 5 yards and hauling in a 6-yard pass to open the scoring.
“Lacy kind of broke out,” Pifer said. “It was good to see him break out as a young guy. We just have to keep him improving and bringing him along.”
Lacy also scored the Rams’ lone TD against Coe and is tied for the conference lead with four TDs. The 6-foot, 220-pounder has a physical running style that Cornell wanted to establish last Saturday. Pifer has options at running back, depending on what is needed.
“He’s a big kid,” Pifer said of Lacy. “He can run. He gets downhill and can do some good things for us.
“That whole running back room is good. I told them this week was Lacy’s week and next week can be somebody else.”
Ripon (2-0, 1-0) presents a tougher challenge. The Red Hawks have won the last two meetings, including a 31-13 triumph last season. Ripon averaged 315.5 yards and 23 points per game in wins over St. Norbert and Knox.
“This will be a good test,” Pifer said. “We’ll see how far we’ve come. They’re a solid football team. They play with good effort and that’s been their thing.
“Our big thing is we have to match their effort … I’m fired up for this game because I think they’re pretty similar to us. They’re just older.”