Hopes were running high last Saturday afternoon as the Knox College Prairie Fire took the field at the Knosher Bowl to do battle with the Beloit Buccaneers.
The Prairie Fire (0-4,0-3) hoped to shake off a crushing defeat at Ripon the week before, while the Bucs (3-1,2-1), after being destroyed by Monmouth the previous week, looked to reassert itself in the conference standings. In the end, only one could prevail, and Beloit won with a deceptively large margin, 42-14.
“We always know they (Knox) are going to play us very, very hard. Especially with that offense, it’s very difficult to defend,” Beloit coach Chris Brann said. “We were expecting a very close football game and we were fortunate to take advantage of some things here this afternoon.”
It looked good for Knox as they began the game. They scored early in the first quarter with junior quarterback Bill Meyer going deep to senior Derek La Rosa to the Beloit one-yard line. Senior defensive end Tighe Burke, lining up at fullback, punched it in one play later for the touchdown, giving Knox the early edge.
A stout defense, including a goal line stand that was extended to six plays all inside the three-yard line due to penalties, kept Beloit’s offense in check throughout the first quarter and until about six minutes into the second. When Knox lined up to punt on fourth down, the coverage broke down, and Beloit’s Andy Christensen took it right back 69 yards for the score, tying the game up. Knox coach Andy Gibbons was incensed afterward.
“That punt return was ridiculous,” Gibbons said. “That should have never, ever happened.”
From the return, it was palpable that the momentum had shifted Beloit’s way. After a three-and-out by Knox, the Buccaneers drove down the field with ease, and quarterback Brian Maughn hooked up with his receiver for a 32-yard touchdown pass to push the score to 14-7, which sustained to the half. From there it was all downhill for the Fire, as Beloit scored in 19 seconds to open the third quarter, and Maughn continued to feast on the secondary.
With the score at 21-7, Knox’s chances seemed slim to nil for winning. The Fire were able to score again in the fourth on a Meyer pass to freshman Mike Schroeder, but by then it was 28-14, with the game essentially over.
Meyer finished 7-for-18 with a TD and an interception, while rushing for 41 yards on 18 carries. Freshman Derek Mortensen led the team in rushing with 52 yards on nine carries, and La Rosa was the top receiver, notching two catches for 48 yards. Junior Danny Kizior went down in the second quarter with an apparent ankle injury, and his status is unknown.
“What’s frustrating is, we played some good football today,” Gibbons said. “We just couldn’t sustain it; we couldn’t keep it together, and that’s the frustrating thing with our team right now. We’ve got to find a way to play 60 minutes. It’s just like our last home game.”
The Knox front seven played with aplomb, holding the Beloit running game, really its bread and butter, to only 100 yards total. Senior Aaron Juarez led the team with nine tackles, also recording a forced fumble and a sack. Burke, last year’s NCAA Division III sack leader, recorded his first of the season, sharing one with sophomore Elliot Madison.
Despite the disappointing beginning to what was a hopeful season, the team is hopeful it can iron out the wrinkles, and take it to St. Norbert this week in Wisconsin.
“We have to stick together,” Gibbons said. “We’re a young team; we just have to stick together. I have faith that we will.”
Knox plays the Green Knights Saturday at 1 p.m., in De Pere, Wis., looking for their first win against an undefeated team.