It seems that nothing is certain, especially in sports. Just as fans and pundits all around were putting the 0-10 noose around the Prairie Fire football team, Knox had a little response for its detractors.
Traveling to Lake Forest to deal with the Foresters on their home turf, Knox had one more chance to notch a win on their record before facing a Scottish juggernaut on November 7. In a rare feat seen only in football, the defense outscored its own offense, as the Prairie Fire grabbed their first win of the season, scraping by the Foresters, 12-7.
“We’re very happy to get a win,” coach Andy Gibbons said. “It was an impressive win, and I’m very proud of our players. We had some tremendous plays.”
Knox’s (1-8, 1-7) offense was relegated to the first half, but it was more than enough to defeat Lake Forest (2-7, 2-6). Knox opened the game with an interception by freshman safety Kyle Brubaker, and capitalized with a field goal after an 18-play, 85-yard drive to take the early lead. That would be all for the first quarter, as defenses on both sides did their job and held both offenses quiet.
It was not until the second quarter, when senior Glenn Prout pinned the Foresters at their own 8-yard line, that Knox would score again. Senior defensive end Tighe Burke made his way into the backfield and sacked Lake Forest’s Jeff Sobey for 10 yards and the safety to go up 5-0. Burke’s safety was one of three sacks for the All-American for a total of 37 yards.
An interception by freshman defensive lineman Lloyd Scott at Lake Forest’s own seven was brought back for a score to give Knox the 12-0 lead. Scott would add a sack and six tackles, second on the day for the Fire in that stat, and also broke up one pass.
“The punt team did awesome; we pinned them inside their 10 a couple of times,” Burke said. “It was the best defensive performance I have ever participated in at Knox.”
The unsung hero on the day was junior defensive back Calvin Zirkle, who had the unenviable job of covering Dan Carter, one of the best receivers in the conference and Lake Forest’s safety valve. Carter had a touchdown, the Forester’s only score, but only two catches for 51 yards. Coming into the game, he had averaged 99 yards a game, and had 10 touchdowns on the season.
With Carter held silent, combined with some creative defensive schemes, Knox forced Lake Forest to throw five interceptions, the most Knox has had in a game this season. Senior safety Jordan Raess had two and Brubaker added two of his own to go along with Scott’s. Zirkle was named Midwest Conference Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts.
“We were able to stop their big playmakers from making plays,” Burke said. “We were so confident that Lake Forest’s offense wasn’t going to do much. It was weird though, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a game [with the offense not scoring, and still winning].”
Decidedly absent from all the scoring was the offense, having a hand in only the opening field goal. Despite rushing for 208 total yards, the offense was held mostly quiet. Junior QB Bill Meyer led in total yardage with 68 net yards, while freshman running back Derek Mortensen ran for 51 yards on 10 carries. The offense did the job, though, of holding onto the ball and keeping the clock running.
Despite the euphoria from winning that first game, Knox now faces the eighth ranked team in the country in the Monmouth Fighting Scots. The sixth-longest rivalry in college football and the 121st meeting of the two teams, it’s a “throw out the record books” game if ever there was one. Coach Gibbons was quite succinct on his feelings.
“Its Knox-Monmouth,” he said. “The fact that they’re eighth, that’s great. But we’re fired up and ready to go.”
Monmouth and its high-octane offense is led by junior quarterback Alex Tanney. Tanney has 36 touchdowns on the season and averages 338 yards a game passing. Monmouth leads the conference in every offensive category except rushing, where they are third. They are also first in total defense. Knox will have its hands full, but as the sages say, on any given Saturday, anything can happen.