After a competitive first quarter, the Ripon College Red Hawks used a high-powered rushing attack to easily do away with the Knox College Prairie Fire on a breezy afternoon last Saturday in the Knosher Bowl. Ripon’s passing game was held in check, completing no passes on eight attempts, including two interceptions, but the Red Hawks ran for nearly 600 yards of offense to pick up their ailing passing game. The 56-14 loss drops the Prairie Fire to 0-5 on the season, and 0-4 in the Midwest Conference.
Coming into the game, the Prairie Fire were looking for a way to stop Ripon’s feared option attack. Knox’s normal 3-4 defense was scrapped for the day in favor of a one-safety 3-5 formation, aimed at pulling more men in the box and shutting down the option, one man at a time, with each defensive player having specific assignments in order to cover the tricky offensive scheme.
The Red Hawks, historically one of the Midwest Conference’s strongest rushing offenses, were held in check by Knox’s game plan through one quarter but scored at the first quarter horn, on a one-yard keeper by Ripon quarterback Jake Marshall. The extra-point was added to make it 7-0.
Ripon, though, made the proper adjustments and moved the ball much better in the second quarter with the help of several short fields, scoring on runs of 11, two and three yards respectively, and only needing to cover 113 yards total between the three drives. After solving Knox’s 3-5 defense, the Red Hawks took a 28-0 lead into the locker room at the break.
“We were looking to shut down their option attack,” said sophomore safety Nate Williams, who made a transition to a hybrid outside linebacker/safety for the 3-5 scheme run against Ripon. “Everyone had their own responsibilities. Sometimes we just got beat, and that is unacceptable.”
Williams admitted there were adjustments to be made, but certainly did not use them as an excuse for the performance of the Prairie Fire rush defense.
“The adjustments really weren’t that difficult,” Williams said. “They gave me pretty specific jobs to do. Do my assignments – tackle the quarterback or tackle the pitch back.”
Ripon scored twice more on runs of one yard each to make the score 42-0 in the third quarter. But Knox mounted its strongest drive of the game to close out the period, going 62 yards on five plays in 1:48; the drive culminating on a 25-yard run by freshman quarterback Drew Diaz. Sophomore kicker Doug Lillibridge added the PAT to make it 42-7.
Following another Ripon touchdown Knox scored again, this time after a six-play, 57-yard drive on an eight-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Mike Pinter to freshman receiver Zack Belk, his second receiving TD in as many weeks. Ripon added one more score before the final horn sounded, with the game ending 56-14, in favor of the Red Hawks.
Junior Clarke Cuthbert finished as Knox’s leading receiver with three catches for 58 yards. Diaz was Knox’s leading rusher, with 55 yards on eight rushes, while throwing for 89 yards. Pinter was 4-for-9 passing, with 62 yards and the lone passing touchdown of the game. Sophomore Dustin Armstrong notched the biggest play of the day for the Fire with a 46-yard reception.
Sophomore safety Kyle Brubaker led the Fire with 10 tackles (seven solo) and an interception. Sophomore linebacker Will Grumke added nine total tackles, and junior linebacker Tony Sickley and freshman defensive lineman Steve Bora had eight tackles apiece, including one tackle-for-loss each. Junior linebacker Dan Page added the team’s other interception.
Knox will be returning to its now standard 3-4 defensive scheme this week against Grinnell. Former starting strong safety David Jewell, a junior who moved to offense against Ripon and caught a pass for 19 yards, will likely be remaining in his new role as a slot receiver for at least this week.
“Being on that side of the ball [last week] was different, but I played both ways all through high school,” Jewell said. “I’ve really had to get in the [offensive] playbook and learn as much as I can in a quick amount of time. I’m not really sure how long I’ll be in this role, but whatever they need me to do, I’ll do.”
Williams and sophomore Michael Schroeder appear to be the leading candidates for the starting strong safety position when Knox returns to its 3-4 scheme.
In terms of morale, senior center and team co-captain Bob Dempster says the team must simply stay the course.
“We come out and work hard every day at practice, trying to get better as a team,” Dempster said. “We’re focusing on Grinnell right now and getting ready for Saturday. We have five games left on our schedule, and we believe we can win them as long as we keep working hard and keep believing we can win.”