Knox head football coach Chad Eisele kept it simple when describing last Saturday’s game against Lake Forest.
“If the game was 58 minutes long we’d have won it.”
But by the rules football is of course 60 minutes, and at the 1:50 mark of the fourth quarter Forester quarterback Pete Scaffidi connected with Austin Sobey for a 28-yard touchdown pass, giving Lake Forest the 31-27 advantage that would prove to be the final score.
The play was an especially tough one to take for senior safety David Jewell, who misplayed the coverage that allowed Sobey to score.
“We ran cover-two, meaning I have the deep part of the field,” Jewell said, “One of the guys we had been keying on was running a crossing route, and I figured they would be going to him. Unfortunately I let another receiver get behind me. I keep telling myself that one play can’t change a football game, but it is still a really tough pill to swallow.”
Knox had taken the three point lead after trailing by as much as 24-7 early in the third quarter.
“I was really disappointed with our first half performance. I told them that this was no way to play our last home game, and they responded,” Eisele said.
It was on a 71-yard kickoff return by sophomore Aramis McGinty that the momentum finally changed for the Prairie Fire. Sophomore runningback Derek Mortensen punched in a touchdown from seven yards out on the next play, cutting the deficit to 24-14.
“That kickoff return was insane,” Mortensen said, “Everyone on the bench got hyped up and we took that onto the field as an offense. The line opened up a massive hole, and I basically got to walk the ball in easily.”
Knox continued the comeback with the help of the defense, which on three different occasions held Lake Forest without points upon entry into the redzone.
“I think that our defense really stepped up, especially in the red zone,” Jewell said, “The first half was not what we wanted, but we came out in the second half and made a statement that [Lake Forest] wasn’t going to walk away with it.”
Jewell had been stout for the Prairie Fire until the last play, contributing a career high of 15 tackles on the day.
On offense Knox continued to dominate into the fourth quarter, receiving rushing touchdowns of 15 and 16 yards from sophomore quarterback Drew Diaz.
“The first one came off a zone-read,” Diaz said, “I put the ball in Derek’s chest and read the defensive end. He was going after Derek so I pulled back and took the ball around the outside. The second came on a pass play. We ran a two-man route, but the pocket opened up on the other side. I went to the opening then got a really good block from the running back.”
After struggling in the redzone in recent weeks, the Prairie Fire capitalized with touchdowns on all four trips inside the Forester 20.
“We started off slow, and at halftime coach talked about getting back to the basics,” Mortensen said. “When we started to make the simple reads and work together as a team, then we saw greater success.”
Though Knox was unable to hold on, Eisele was still proud of the effort the team gave on Senior Day.
“They [gave] everything they could possibly give, and that is all a coach can ask of his players.”
“It is a bittersweet feeling,” Jewell said of playing his final game in the Knosher Bowl, “You know it has to end at some point, but you never expect [the end] to come up so fast. You can’t ask for a better group of guys to play with, and I know we are all going to miss playing.”
Knox’s next task is a daunting one as they head to Monmouth to take on the top team in the Midwest Conference. The Fighting Scots have the number-one offense in the nation for Division III, and are led by quarterback Alex Tanney, who broke the NCAA record for career touchdown passes last week.
Despite the pregame perceptions, the Prairie Fire are not prepared to back down.
“We know they are good, everyone else knows they are good, but sometimes it goes beyond talent when it comes to the Knox-Monmouth rivalry,” Jewell said. “It’s us against them and we try to throw out the records. If you can’t get fired up for the Monmouth game, you can’t get fired up for anything. We’ve taken that attitude into our practices, and our plan is to go out and give them a game on Saturday.”
Diaz seconds the message.
“They have a very good offense but I feel that we can compete with anyone,” Diaz said, “The key will be to get first downs and keep possession of the ball.”