September 28, 2011

Buccaneers top Prairie Fire in hard fought contest

In Saturday’s 34-20 loss to Beloit, the Knox College football team can now only look back to the first 30 minutes of play and wonder what might have been.
In the first half against Beloit last Saturday the Knox College football team finished six of their drives in Buccaneer territory and had a nearly 12 minute advantage in time of possession. Yet when the horn sounded for halftime the scoreboard read 14-14.
Despite taking their first three drives inside Beloit’s 25-yardline, the Prairie Fire came away with no points. The first two ended in missed field goals of 26 and 28 yards from sophomore Doug Lillibridge, and the third came to an end after Knox failed to convert on fourth and twelve from the Beloit twenty-three.
Though they capitalized later in the half, head coach Chad Eisele knows it is hard to recover from those kinds of missed opportunities.
“We were in the red-zone four times and came up with very little points, few teams in the country can pull that off,” Eisele said.
Knox finally reached pay-dirt early in the second quarter when sophomore quarterback Drew Diaz kept the ball on an option read and took it five yards for the opening touchdown.
But Beloit answered quickly, as Brett Maughn connected with Derek Carrier for a 55-yard touchdown pass just a minute and 12 seconds later.
On the ensuing drive the Prairie Fire scored once again, this time on a one yard run by Derek Mortensen. The score was one of two on the day for Mortensen, who had 28 carries for 116 yards in the game, by far his best performance a member of the Prairie Fire.
Knox was looking to close the half with the lead, but late in the half Maughn and Carrier connected for another big play, this time a 60 yard touchdown pass that evened the score with less than two minutes to play.
Beloit rode the momentum swing into the third quarter, opening the second half with a 72 yard scoring drive to take their first lead of the game. Knox responded with a score of their own, but the kicking woes continued, as Lillibridge missed the extra point that would have tied the game.
In the fourth quarter the Buccaneers dominated on both sides of the ball, and outscored the Prairie Fire 13-0.
“We just execute as well in the second half. After the first score we had some three and outs early and did not start moving it again until it was too late,” Eisele said.
Knox’s last shot came with less than four minutes remaining. Hoping to score, recover an onside kick, then score again, the Prairie Fire seemed to complete step one of the process when Diaz connected with senior receiver Clarke Cuthbert (7 receptions, 111 yards) for an apparent eight yard touchdown pass. But Cuthbert was ruled to have gone through an illegal motion before the snap, voiding the touchdown and any chance of a comeback.
The Prairie Fire defense continued to struggle, as the Buccaneers (1-3, 1-2 MWC) put up over 500 yards of total offense. The lone bright spot came in the form of senior linebacker Mike Hendrick, whose 23 tackles tied the school record for most in a single game. Hendrick continues to lead the MWC in the category, piling up 16.25 tackles per game.
“In a 3-4 defense the middle linebacker has to make a lot of plays. Mike is definitely one of our best defensive players, and he has got a great motor,” Eisele said.
If Hendrick stays on the current pace, he can break the school record for tackles in a season, as well as record the third best total in the history of the MWC.
Knox (0-4, 0-3 MWC) makes the second of three trips to Wisconsin this weekend, this time to take on the option run attack of Ripon College.

Jackson White
Jackson White is a senior double majoring in political science and secondary education. This is his third year as a sports editor for TKS. Over the course of the 2010-2011 academic year, Jackson worked for, writing feature stories and columns about high school and college baseball in central Illinois. Outside of the Publications Office, he is an information assistant for the Knox College Sports Information Department and a two-time all-Midwest Conference baseball player. Jackson is the recipient of five awards from the Illinois College Press Association, including two first place awards for sports game coverage and sports page design.

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