The Knox College football team stormed the field on Saturday, ready to give a good show to its classmates for the first time this year and anxious to eliminate the bad feelings from the prior week’s trouncing at the hands of Illinois College. The Ripon College Red Hawks came to town ready to do battle and Knox was ready to challenge them. Ranked 3rd in the conference in the preseason coaches’ poll, Ripon was the stiffest competition Knox has faced this season and would serve as a measure for where the team stands and where it could go.
The game started off in a rush, as Knox struck quickly to assert itself. After kicking off to Ripon to open the contest, senior defensive-end Tighe Burke ripped the ball from Ripon quarterback Matthew Miller. Sophomore corner Calvin Zirkle scooped it up, and sprinted for the endzone. There was no catching him, as the Ripon offense was slow and confused, not knowing their general had fumbled. Zirkle grabbed the touchdown for Knox, as the crowd rose up in one voice and celebrated boisterously. The point-after by senior kicking specialist Jack Dippold made it 7-0 Knox and Ripon looked stunned.
“I saw the ball there,” said Zirkle later, “ and my only thought was to grab it as fast as possible. I wasn’t thinking touchdown, but I guess the defense was blocking for me pretty well, so I just ran.”
Though this was the star on the chart for Zirkle, who is in the running for defensive player of the week, he was everywhere on the field, causing havoc and disrupting the offensive schemes constantly. He recovered another fumble later in the game, as well as recording four tackles and one assist, one for a loss of eight yards. “I went into the game real calm, wanting to do my best. I was kind of sick last game, so I wanted to do something. I just want to play like I could win player of the week every week. If we all play that way, at the top of our game, we could be unstoppable.”
Along with Zirkle, Burke had four tackles, five assists, and two forced fumbles. Senior linebacker Marty Dertz had three tackles and four assists, and junior linebacker Aaron Juarez had four tackles with three assists, as they led the defense to a respectable day.
After being struck by Zirkle’s lightnighg the Ripon offense came out on the field, a combination of confusion and determination plain in their body language. Running a triple option Ripon came out rushing the ball, taking advantage of some miscues from the interior line and expertly utilizing a powerful offensive line. After grinding its way down the field, Ripon forced their way into the Knox end zone, tying the game at 7.
With the Ripon score, the Knox faithful were given their first chance to see new quarterback Bill Meyer in action, as well as how offensive coordinator Chad Eisele would handle the ball. Starting with a blend of the Kizior brothers, Mike and Dan, rushing and a little bit of work from junior Brent Newman, the team moved the ball initially, but the Red Hawk defense stiffened and forced the punt.
Ripon lined up in a pure punt return block formation, leaving no pressure at all on the kicker, senior Kevin Malone. For a second, Malone looked ready to run for the first down but Ripon noticed, and before he had taken five steps the defense was after him, forcing him to kick a short punt for only 18 yards. Thus, the Red Hawks were given a decent field position to take advantage of.
Ripon took off gunning from the start, as Miller completed a pass for 43 yards, immediately eating up over half the field. After they showed evidence of their passing prowess, Knox was thrown for a loop, giving the Red Hawks the opportunity to make it to the endzone. With the score resting at 14-7 at the end of the first quarter, things started to look bad for the Fire.
After the first quarter outburst by Ripon, Knox did its best to hold their opponent back, and succeeded for the most part. Unfortunately, the Ripon defense was practically impenetrable, and Knox did not try to take advantage of what turned out to be a rather porous pass defense. Knox scored no points after the quick strike to open the game, and quarterback Meyer was harried several times, unable to unload the ball before taking the loss. The new quarterback showed guts and grit, taking hits and popping right back up, doing his best to try to get the ball downfield and help his team out.
Ripon made it to the endzone once again before the end of the half, bringing the score to 21-7. Knox, known for being a second half team, did not let this faze them. Coach Andy Gibbons went into the locker room, ready with one of his customary motivational lessons.
“I told the team we had to respond to adversity,” said Gibbons. “We just had to get the ball to the endzone, take advantage of what we could.”
The team, plainly driven by the lessons of Gibbons, came out with a renewed fire in their eyes and played prodigious ball, especially on the defensive side. Through the rest of the game, Ripon was held to only six points as the Knox defense swarmed to the ball and stopped any real production before it could start. Still, going into the fourth quarter the Fire offense could not get it going against the Ripon front-seven, as the rush was held to a negligible amount of yards, netting only 90 yards on 47 rushes for the whole game.
Midway through the fourth quarter, with the Fire down 27-7, a bolt shot through the crowd, few of who had left. After a fumble by the Red Hawks inside their own twenty-yard line recovered by senior Sam Almohandis, Mike Kizior quickly ushered the ball into the end zone for the offense. After concentrating on the run, at times to their detriment, Meyer started airing the ball out, finding targets in senior Ian Pope and junior Derek LaRosa, who became a favorite target for Meyer. They drove down the field beautifully, but the clock was their enemy, as was a quickly adapting Ripon defense. An onside kick failed and eventually the Fire succumbed to the loss, though few missed the late heroic attempt by Meyer.
“We’re a running team first,” noted Gibbons on the late development of the team’s passing game. “But we definitely want to throw it more. Its something we keep working on.”
No loss is painless, but despite the outcome the Fire finds itself in a position to make some noise in the conference. A visit to Beloit College this Saturday should be a good boost and get the team on the board for conference wins.
“We just have to go to Beloit and get the win,” said Gibbons. “They’re a young team, but we’ve had a good week of practice. We just have to get out there and play our game.”