A steel-grey sky hung above April Zorn Memorial Field, as the Knox College Prairie Fire once again did battle with the Fighting Scots of Monmouth College. In this, the 120th meeting of the two schools, it seemed like yet another great day of football. The wind whipped in from the west and a dusting of snow fell upon those in attendance. The Fighting Scots, looking to finish off their undefeated season, came ready to play, while the Prairie Fire were excited to disappoint a whole lot of people draped in red.
The contest started off with the ball in Knox’s possession, as sophomore returner/ running back Danny Kizior took the ball and bounced around like a pinball on his way up the field. Kizior’s ability to keep his legs pumping was amazing throughout the game, and the fact that anyone could stop him still boggles the mind. Knox tried to get the air game going early, but the wind, combined with a stout defense on the side of Monmouth, made for a quick possession, and six plays later the Scots had the ball back, as sophomore phenom Alex Tanney got under center.
Tanney, the younger brother of another Monmouth legend at quarterback who is now playing Arena Football, was a sight to behold, with great field vision, and athleticism to rival anyone on Knox. They were able to get their option working early and that coupled with a series of quick slants and dip routes drove the ball down the field quickly as Tanney was a perfect 5-5 on the opening drive to get the touchdown. This proved to be a running theme for the game and after Knox was held to -5 yards on their next possession, Monmouth again drove quickly down the field for another score. At the end of the first quarter, it was 21-0 Monmouth and the feeling on the Knox sideline was less than confident.
“Monmouth is a fine football team,” said Coach Andy Gibbons.
The Scots showed this again in the second quarter, as they scored quickly early in the period to take a 28-0 lead, and to gain complete control of the game.
Then, suddenly, there was a shift in momentum. First, on a drive to the end zone, Tanney threw his sixth interception of the year (a pass intercepted by sophomore defensive back Danny Salvato); no small feat by any means and Knox was able to grind it back up the field some 95 yards for the score. Suddenly, the Scots were up only three scores again, and Tanney looked shaken.
On their next drive, Tanney did it again, throwing a pick to junior linebacker George Nicholson. After this, the energy on the Knox sidelines was palpable and the Scots looked confused out on the field. The Monmouth defense, particularly their pass rush, was having a good time in the Knox backfield, and sophomore quarterback Bill Meyer was knocked around repeatedly and often hurried as he tried to get something going. Despite the momentum shift, any attempts by Knox to get a drive going in the first half besides the one touchdown were cancelled as a swarming Scot defense made for a harsh day for any Knox player.
The second half started off with the ball in the hands of the Scots. Again, the short passes tore up the Knox secondary, as blitzes killed any close pass defense the Fire might have had. A quick score ran the deficit to 35-7, as the energy shifted back to the home side of the field. A punt by Knox was muffed by the Monmouth returner and bounced to the end zone resulting in a controversial call, which could have been points, either in the form of a safety or a touchdown by one of the Knox gunners, but the Scots got it at their 20.
“That punt should have been a safety,” said senior defensive tackle Roger Buckwalter. “That killed us.”
The Knox defense, led by senior end Tighe Burke, who had been held to very little effectiveness all game save for some hassling of Tanney, forced a punt, but it was muffed, and Monmouth picked it back up and drove it quickly down the field for another score, making it 42-7. As the game wore towards its conclusion, Knox would only muster a field goal, while Monmouth would score twice more to make it 56-10, easily sealing the win and a perfect season for the Fighting Scots. Disappointment settled over the Knox campus, as the Bronze Turkey would once again remain with the enemy for another year.
“If we had played better in the first quarter, and had the same intensity as the second quarter, it would have been different. We just came out flat,” Buckwalter said.
Buckwalter’s analysis was truly a commentary on the whole season for the Fire, who started out slow in the beginning against the Scots and only got it going towards the end, as in past games.
“Monmouth was on (on Saturday),” Buckwalter said.“They were the best in the conference, easily.”
On the day, Monmouth had 532 total yards of offense, 238 of which came off the rush, while Knox was only able to muster 277 total. Their ability to stymie the front seven of Knox, especially Burke, who entered the game with 14 sacks – good for third in the nation, was amazing, though as Buckwalter observed, there were a lot of uncalled holds on Burke. Even so, the offensive line of the Scots was quite impressive and Tanney’s successes had at least something to do with them.
“I thought in the second quarter we got some good opportunities,” said Gibbons, but as the stats showed, Knox could not capitalize. “Tighe gave it everything he had.”
Though the record did not show it, Coach Gibbons was quite happy with the way the team evolved all season.
“Last year we didn’t improve towards the end of the year,” he said. “This year we did. We just have some work to do to get to their (Monmouth’s) point.”
As with all college programs, there will be some attrition over the off-season, as many great players will move on to the real world.
“I’m going to miss them all,” Gibbons said. “The captains, Mike (Kizior), Tighe, Sammy (Almohandis) and Grant (Guimond) all did a heck of a job. It’s a tough job being a captain. I just wish we could have had more success in the win/loss column.”
And so as the off-season approaches, and Coach Gibbons gets ready for a new group of guys and some new leaders to emerge, the Knosher Bowl will go silent, until once again the Fire of the fall blazes, and Knox takes to the gridiron once again.