In many cases, it takes a while for the visiting team in a football game to start playing its best. For Knox College, this rule did not apply on Saturday. However, the Blueboys countered with two unanswered touchdowns in the second quarter, which proved to be the deciding factor in a 31-23 loss for the Prairie Fire.
On just the second play from scrimmage, freshman quarterback Drew Diaz ripped off a 68-yard run to put Knox up fast, 7-0. “The offensive line was great. I wasn’t sacked once all game because they did so well,” Diaz said. “I had a lot of time to make good reads in the pocket as well as running the ball.”
Neither team would do much offensively for the next twelve minutes. With less than two minutes to go in the opening quarter, sophomore Prairie Fire kicker Doug Lillibridge made a field goal from 29 yards out to make the score 10-0.
The Illinois College (4-3, 4-2 MWC) offense began a scoring spree afterwards. After a three-yard touchdown run and a 17-yard touchdown pass, the Blueboys were suddenly on top 14-10 with over eight minutes to go in the first half. “It didn’t seem like we still had the same effort as we did in the beginning of the game,” Diaz said. “We tripped up a bit and we were complacent with the lead.”
It appeared that the Prairie Fire (1-6, 1-5 MWC) would gain the momentum back as Diaz hooked up with junior Clarke Cuthbert for a 78-yard touchdown pass, but Illinois College would block Lillibridge’s extra point, holding the score at 16-14. Behind by only two points, the Blueboys grinded out a six minute drive which put them in field goal range to go back on top. With a little over 80 seconds left till halftime, the Illinois College field goal attempt was good from 23 yards. At the break, the score stood 17-16.
The third quarter contained seven possession changes between the two teams. A mixture of punts and turnovers resulted in not much scoring. One of the turnovers, a Prairie Fire fumble on the Illinois College 13-yard line, was extremely costly. Jake Powell scooped up the ball for the Blueboys, and sprinted 87 yards in the other direction for a touchdown. The score extended Illinois College’s lead to 24-16 as the quarter winded down.
Knox still had plenty of time to regain the lead and win the game, but they could not put together a solid offense drive. After another Prairie Fire punt, the Blueboys took the field, looking to put the game out of reach. Illinois College quarterback Mitch Niekamp connected with Brock Thompson for an 80-yard touchdown pass to make the score 31-16 with over seven minutes still to go in the game. Though the Prairie Fire tried to answer back with a score of their own, the Blueboys’ defense stayed strong. Knox would not score again until two minutes left in the game as senior Bill Meyer plunged in for a touchdown from the one-yard line. The score would stand at 31-23 in favor of Illinois College as time expired. “This one was especially tough because we felt like we had it from the beginning,” Diaz said.
Cuthbert’s 242 yards receiving earned him Midwest Conference’s Offensive Player of the Week. His big day also got him to second place on the Prairie Fire’s single-game receiving yards leaderboard behind Chris Vogel, who had 280 yards in 1987 against Ripon College.
The Prairie Fire will take on Carroll University (5-2, 4-2 MWC)in the Homecoming Game this Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Knosher Bowl.