Last Saturday’s 43-35 loss to Grinnell made it two straight weeks of falling one score short of a victory for the Knox football team.
After trading punts on the first two possessions Knox struck first when sophomore running-back Derek Mortensen ran the ball three yards for a score to give the Prairie Fire a 7-0 lead.
Grinnell answered with a touchdown on the last play of the first quarter, but Knox responded in the second when sophomore quarterback Drew Diaz hooked up with junior receiver Dustin Armstrong for a six yard touchdown pass.
“Dustin is a quality receiver who has put in a lot more effort into running good routes in recent games,” head coach Chad Eisele said. “He is not as physical of a player as some other guys, but his speed and talent makes a difference.”
The first half ended with the two sides tied at 14-14, but Knox took another lead in the third quarter when Diaz connected with senior Clark Cuthbert for an 11 yard touchdown.
It was on the Grinnell’s next drive that the momentum would shift. Facing a fourth and four from their own 37, the Pioneers chose to take a big risk and go for it. They converted with a nineyard pass and later scored on the drive.
“If they don’t get it we’ve got the ball first and ten in their territory; instead they get it, and the momentum swung from there,” Eisele said.
Two punts and a turnover by the Knox offense gave Grinnell additional opportunities which the Pioneers capitalized on. With nine minutes left in the fourth quarter Grinnell had taken a 43-20 lead, and the game looked essentially over.
But Knox refused to give up. On the ensuing drive Diaz recorded his third touchdown pass of the day, this time a 24-yard strike to sophomore tight-end Neal Moon. Moon, a converted offensive lineman, has become a greater part of the Prairie Fire offense over the course of the season.
“Neal is 6′ 3″, 230 pounds and he catches the ball as well as anybody,” Eisele said. “We tried a few more times to draw stuff up specifically for him, and that is what the touchdown came out of.”Knox continued to mount a comeback with the help of the defense, namely junior linebacker Mike Hendrick. Hendrick led the Prairie Fire with 11 tackles, but also registered three sacks, a pass deflection and an interception. With a conference leading 95 tackles, Eisele believes Hendrick had made a case for multiple honors.
“Mike had a great game and is coming into his own at inside linebacker. His speed makes him a great blitzer. We want to see him put up those numbers not only because it will help us compete, but also because at this point he is not only worthy of recognition in the MWC but also nationally as well,” Eisele said.
After two defensive stops Knox got to within one score via a one yard touchdown run by Diaz. It came down to an onside kick, but the Prairie Fire was unable to recover and Grinnell ran the clock out to ice the game.
In the end the performance was better, but still not what the coaching staff would call perfect.
“The good news is we cut down on a lot of our mistakes,” Eisele said, “but the mistakes that we did make were costly. They ran a surprise onside kick and we weren’t ready for it, and toward the end of the first half we ran a flea-flicker play that was wide open and didn’t connect. Those are situations where we have got to do the right thing.”
This Saturday the Prairie Fire returns to Galesburg for their first home game in two weeks. Knox welcomes Illinois College for the Homecoming game, which starts at 1 p.m.