When sophomore linebacker John Bass intercepted Pioneer quarterback Chris Casper’s pass early in the first quarter, setting up the Prairie Fire offense with great field position on their opening drive, it appeared that Knox was ready to pick up where they left off last week. Unfortunately, the Carroll University Pioneer defense, ranked number one in the Midwest Conference, played nearly error-free in a 35-0 victory over the Prairie Fire on Saturday.
A defensive battle started the contest, with neither team putting any points on the board for the entire first quarter. With just under six minutes to go in the opening frame, it looked as if the Pioneers would score first, but senior defensive lineman Mike Hendrick intercepted Casper on the Knox College 24-yard line to preserve the tie.
However, the Prairie Fire offense could not capitalize on the turnover. In fact, they would only have five possessions the entire first half.
After a good punt by Knox sophomore Doug Lillibridge, the Pioneers began a drive at their own fourteen with 3:41 to go in the first quarter. “My punts were feeling good all day,” Lillibridge said, “and the coverage team has done an amazing job all year at limiting return yards.” Eighty-five yards and a little under four minutes later, Carroll found the end zone.
The Prairie Fire (1-7, 1-6 MWC) looked to answer, and began a decent drive of their own, but stalled after seven plays and 45 yards. The respectable possession was not enough to cool down the Pioneer (6-2, 5-2 MWC) offense, though. It only took one play for Carroll running back Joe Berkstrand to extend his team’s lead, as he tore down the field 65 yards for a touchdown, making the score 14-0.
Again, the Knox offense did its best to fight back into the game, putting together a drive that went well into Pioneer territory. However, from the 39-yard line, Knox was forced to surrender the ball, and Lillibridge came on to punt again. Looking to keep a bit of momentum on his team’s side, Lillibridge struck the ball perfectly, and it was downed on Carroll’s one-yard line.
“Hendrick did a great job of waiting until the last minute to down that ball,” Lillibridge said. “Field position is huge in a football game, so I was glad to help the team out in that situation.”
In the shadows of their own goal post, the Pioneers showed no signs of concern. The Carroll offense saw to it that their best drive of the game followed Knox’s best special teams play of the day. Amassing 99 yards and chewing up about six and a half minutes of clock, the Pioneers marched down the field. Berkstrand capped off the drive, sprinting in for a touchdown from the five-yard line. With only 45 seconds left until halftime, the Prairie Fire were forced to go into the break, down 21-0.
Knox did not fare any better the second half. The Carroll offense did a good job maintaining possession and the defense forced two more turnovers. The Knox offense, which had been firing on all cylinders the past two games, was held to only 175 total yards compared to the 460 yards put up by the Pioneers. In addition, the Pioneers were successful nine out of 15 times on third down conversions, while the Prairie Fire went four for 15.
Carroll’s second half touchdowns came after drives of nine plays, which lasted over five minutes, and 14 plays, which lasted over seven minutes. This win puts the Pioneers in a four-way tie for first place in the conference, with Ripon College, Illinois College and St. Norbert College.
Next week, Knox will travel to Lake Forest College to take on the Foresters (1-7, 1-6 MWC) at 1 p.m. Last season, the Prairie Fire took down the Foresters 12-7 for their only victory of the season.
Beck, Cuthbert honored
In the two weeks prior to Homecoming, senior Kevin Beck and junior Clarke Cuthbert were both honored by D3Football.com for their record-setting performances. Beck, who intercepted three passes in the Prairie Fire’s victory over Grinnell on Oct. 9, was named to the website’s National Team of the Week. Last week’s team featured Cuthbert, who had 242 yards on eight catches in the Prairie fire’s 31-21 loss to Illinois College.