Last week’s game against Grinnell College at Rosenbloom Field looked to be the beginning of a great second half of the season for the Knox College Prairie Fire. After suffering through a wrenching 1-5 start (0-5 in conference), Knox was looking to make a splash and get off on the right foot against the Grinnell Pioneers, a team considered by many to be middle-of-the-road at best in the MWC.
Heading into the face-off with the Pioneers, head coach Andy Gibbons was excited, noting that, “It’s important for us to come out of this 1-0.” With this driving force behind the team, combined with an amped-up team that had given then-top ranked St. Norbert a real game for longer than most of their opponents, the team was going into the game just short of expecting a win. Unfortunately for the Prairie Fire, Grinnell was not ready to just roll over and hand Knox their second win of the year, and instead put up what could be considered the hardest fought battle Knox has had all year.
“It was probably one of the hardest losses we’ve had all season,” said sophomore Kevin Meyers afterward. Indeed, this Prairie Fire team was one aching for a win after a stretch of five straight losses; the taste of bitter defeat was thick in their mouths and heavy in their hearts.
The first quarter was one of two teams feeling each other out, as no points were put up on the board by either squad. Three punts and a turnover on downs was the summation of the collective offense in the first, though at the end, the Pioneers were making their way downfield. As the second quarter began, they found themselves on Knox’s 25-yard line. Three plays later the Pioneers were able to force their way into the end zone, putting the first points up on the board. Knox was unable to answer back in the first half, though they held Grinnell to no more points until the second half. It was a battle of field position throughout the first half, and Grinnell came out with the only points.
Knox received to begin the second half and began their drive in earnest. Coach Gibbons’ move towards more balance on the offense was highlighted by giving sophomore QB Bill Meyer more chances to air it out. The efforts backfired on this drive as Meyer threw an incomplete pass, then an interception one play later. The pick unfortunately gave Grinnell preciously good field position at the Knox 41, and the Fire was unable to stop them from taking advantage of this. Grinnell took it quickly to the end zone for a score, stretching the deficit to 14. Still, the Prairie would not let up.
The ensuing kickoff was an instant disaster, as sophomore Danny Salvato fumbled the ball at the 39 and Grinnell jumped on both it and the opportunity, once again taking it down the short field to the end zone. Just like that the score was 21-0. Even so, this was far from an insurmountable lead, and definitely smaller than the Prairie Fire had faced in past games.
As the Prairie Fire took the ball back, it was time to score, and they knew it. The deficit was growing. Luckily, Meyer was able to engineer a six minute, 64-yard drive down the field, grinding the Pioneers to dust on his offensive line, and even completing a couple of passes to get Knox down the field. Senior Grant Guimond punched the pigskin in with a four yard blast to narrow the deficit to 14 again.
Knox held the Pioneers to no more points in the 3rd, and again in the 4th, and were able to score again on a 15-yard rush by Guimond to narrow the deficit to seven with eight minutes left in the game. The defense remained stiff, not allowing anything of note by the Pioneers, but at the same time, the offense couldn’t get it clicking again. With three minutes left, the Pioneers needed only to run some clock, and were working to do just that.
Senior defensive end Tighe Burke was able to force a fumble, and for a quick second, there was hope again on the Prairie sidelines. But Grinnell was able to pick it back up, and Knox, without any timeouts, could only watch as the Grinnell quarterback took a knee to kill the clock and Knox’s hopes for a win.
“It was tough,” said Gibbons. “We had some chances, but we couldn’t get it done. There were some positives, but we still lost. We just need to win, that’s all there is to it.” It was an even game throughout, statistically and points-wise, but Knox just couldn’t pull it off.
As Lawrence College comes to town this weekend, the team has shrugged off the bad loss, and is ready to get it done in the Bowl.
“We have to protect our house,” said Gibbons. “We had a good week of practice, and we’re ready to play.”
The Prairie Fire faithful, hungry for a win, can only hope that something grand can come out of the weekend, and a statement can be made.
Kickoff is at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Knosher Bowl.