In a flashback to high school for the Knox College football team, Saturday the 25th of October featured something most had not experienced since their senior year, and it was not a curfew. The Prairie Fire (2-6, 1-6) faced off against the Carroll University Pioneers (5-3, 4-3) under the lights of Schneider Field in Waukesha, Wisconsin, with a start time of 6:00 p.m., a step Carroll often takes to throw their opponents off their flow. It was a defensive battle, with neither team giving any more than they had to, and after Knox’s offensive explosion a week earlier, it was like a different team was on the field. There were 526 total offensive yards for the two teams combined, with only two touchdowns scored all game, and none in the first or last quarter.
“Two weeks ago [against Lawrence], our offense had its best game of the year,” said Knox head coach Andy Gibbons afterward. “Last week [against Carroll], our defense played their best all year. The next two weeks we need to play them both at the same time.”
One would think that facing the team from which George Halas got the helmet insignia for his Bears would be a battle of field position, and this contest did not disappoint.
Knox opened up the game with the ball, and was able to drive down the field to Carroll’s 25, but a gutsy call to go for it on fourth down backfired, and the first of many defensive stops began. From there, the only scoring opportunity for either team in the first period was a missed field goal by the Pioneers from the Knox 18. Other than that, it was all punts, a combined five until 2:48 left in the second quarter, when Carroll was able to fool the defense and dash 14 yards into the end zone for a score, making it 7-0, Carroll. Knox had a chance to respond, but the Carroll defense stood up, and forced the punt to end the half.
The second half was almost a mirror image of the first, with five more punts and a 15-yard rushing touchdown, but with a more active defensive presence involved, including a forced fumble by senior defensive lineman Derek Knobeloch, picked up by fellow senior Tighe Burke. It was for naught however, and though Knox had the ball in Carroll territory six times, and twice inside the 25, the offense ran into a brick wall every time. Furthermore, as sophomore Bill Meyer was engineering a drive to, at the very least, make it competitive at the end of the game, he threw an interception at the Carroll 13. Carroll sealed the game after a couple of rushing first downs, and the final tally was 14-0. A loss, as ever, is hard to swallow, but the way the team played against one of the top four squads in the conference was admirable, and the defense played prodigiously. Besides his forced fumble, Knobeloch had two tackles, while sophomore safety Calvin Zirkle led the team yet again with seven total tackles, and Burke had six tackles, with two of them for a loss of 16 total yards, causing havoc in the backfield yet again. Despite the defensive stoutness, the offense was no great shakes, by any means. When a running team compiles 60 total yards on the ground, that will lead to a problem, and though the passing game was involved a little more, with Meyer airing it out 24 times, there were only eight completions, as well as the interception. Junior wide out Evan Massey led the team in receiving yards with 76 on four receptions, including a 30-yarder.
“We had all kinds of opportunities to win the game,” Gibbons said. “We just couldn’t take advantage.”
However, as coach Gibbons noted, if the two sides of the ball can get it together, Monmouth in two weeks, and Lake Forest this week can give a good show to the crowd.
“It was a good, physical game,” noted junior offensive tackle Tyler Hopfauf, “Everyone played to their potential. The chips just didn’t fall our way.”
Homecoming is this weekend against the Foresters of Lake Forest (3-4, 3-5), as alumni flock to their alma mater to be greeted with the pleasant environment that is the Harley Knosher Bowl. There will be a dedication ceremony for the field in honor of Coach Knosher, who was at Knox from 1960 until his retirement in 2000, serving as coach, faculty member, and athletic director. By his own admission, Knosher has only missed two games in 48 years.
“Harley’s a great man, and he did a lot for the program,” said Gibbons, “We’re excited to be the first team to play on the field. This weekend, we need our best game.” Besides what he said concerning bringing the two sides of the ball together, he noted, “ Our special teams is going to be key.”
The team is fired up, ready to show their fans what they can really do.
“It’s homecoming,” noted Gibbons. “We’re gonna be ready, and we’re excited to play in front of the homecoming crowd.”
Ceremonies begin at 1 p.m., with the game immediately following.