Last Saturday’s loss to Carroll University reinforced the underlying theme of the season for the Knox football team: competing for most of the game, only to see the opponent pull away late.
Knox was down by just eight points after three quarters of play, but the Pioneers dominated the fourth period to come away with a 30-8 victory.
Early on the game was a defensive battle, as the teams combined for four punts in the first quarter. Knox (0-8, 0-7 MWC) had the best chance of the frame, as the offense drove deep into Pioneer territory on their second drive, but sophomore kicker Phil Tallman missed a 28-yard field goal leaving the game scoreless after one.
The Prairie Fire finally broke through with a touchdown just three minutes into the second. Sophomore running back Derek Mortensen’s two-yard touchdown run capped a nine-play, 75-yard drive, and gave Knox a 6-0 lead.
But the mood changed quickly on the ensuing extra point. Tallman’s kick was blocked, then returned all the way back for a safety, making the score 6-2. Carroll capitalized on the shift in momentum, scoring on each of their next two drives to take a 16-6 lead into half.
“Our defense got them to go three and out four times early on, after the blocked kick they come back and score on their next two possessions,” head coach Chad Eisele said. “It was disappointing … Things like [the blocked extra point] are tough to overcome, but you have to find a way to do it.”
Despite the early extra point debacle, Eisele did point out positives about the team’s perseverance.
“During half time we told the guys that they had to pick it up, and we did come out strong in the second half. There was no quit, and that was really good to see,” he said.
On Carroll’s first drive of the second half, sophomore nose tackle Steve Bora sacked Pioneer quarterback Ryan Young in the end zone, recording the game’s second safety.
“I broke through the line with a swim move,” Bora said. “They ran play action and by the time [the quarterback] took a couple of steps and turned around, I was there.”
“We show up every game with intensity,” Bora said of the defensive line. “We have two captains (seniors Lloyd Scott and Elliot Madison), and they give us leadership on the field. I also think our depth is helping a lot. We feel that any one of us can a make play when it matters.”
The play was one of five Prairie Fire sacks on the night, and cut the deficit to 16-8.
But, Knox would not get any closer for the rest of the game, as Carroll took advantage of mistakes from both the offense and special teams.
The Pioneers intercepted two passes and blocked two punts, ultimately reaching pay dirt twice in the fourth quarter.
“They made some defensive adjustments which we countered unsuccessfully,” said sophomore guard Jeremy Ransom. “Turnovers killed us, and we were 1-4 in the red zone. You take those turnovers away, and turn those missed red zone chances into touchdowns, and it is a totally different game.”
Failed trips to the red zone have been a season long problem for the Prairie Fire, which are second to last in red zone scoring percentage in the Midwest Conference. But despite the struggles late in drives, Ransom believes there were positives for the offense to take away from the game.
“They have the best defense in the conference and we out-gained them in yards for the game, so we were pretty happy with that,” he said.
Next week Knox takes on Lake Forest College in their final home game of the season.
“[Lake Forest has] one of the best offenses in the league, and we know they are going to put up some points,” Eisele said. “It is up to our offense to match them, and our defense really needs to come up with some more turnovers to get us more possessions. More importantly, it’s our last home game of the year and we have to play hard for our seniors. It is the last time they are playing in [Knosher Bowl] and we want them leaving on a high note.”