Knox College’s 56-27 loss to Monmouth College in the 123rd Bronze Turkey Bowl came down to two things: turnovers and special teams. The Prairie Fire threw four interceptions, had a blocked punt, a missed extra point and a fumbled kickoff, all which contributed to the 13th consecutive loss in the rivalry.
The problems started early for the Prairie Fire, falling behind 20-0 in just 16 minutes of action. Knox played into the wind during the first quarter, limiting their offense to a predominant run game.
“When we went into the wind, [Monmouth] loaded the box because they knew we were going to have to run the ball,” sophomore running back Derek Mortensen said. “We couldn’t get anything going.”
Head coach Chad Eisele also noted the impact of the weather, which caused one of the early turning points in the game.
“The wind was a much bigger factor than I thought it was going to be. It wasn’t bad all the time, but when it gusted it was terrible. We called a flea-flicker on the first drive and when [sophomore quarterback Drew Diaz] threw it the wind just stopped it in mid-air, and they picked it off.”
But Knox got the wind at their backs in the second and third quarters, and with the help of three one yard touchdown runs from Mortensen, got as close as 27-21 late in the third frame.
“Every time we reached the red zone we wanted to punch the ball in,” Mortensen said, “and the o-line is the biggest factor for that. I only score because the guys up front get the better of the defense.”
“With a team that doesn’t care, that has given up, it’s over [when down big], but we didn’t give up,” Eisele said.
In just a matter of three minutes however, the Fighting Scots turned the tables on the Prairie Fire once again.
After Mortensen’s third touchdown, the ensuing kickoff from sophomore Phil Tallman went out of bounds, giving Monmouth a short field that would eventually lead to a touchdown. On the following Scots kickoff, failed communication amongst the Prairie Fire return team caused the ball to deflect off one of the returners and directly into the hands of Monmouth. The Scots punched in another touchdown to take a 42-21 lead and never looked back.
“We just shot ourselves in the foot too many times,” coach Eisele said.
Mortensen would finish with 112 yards and four touchdown runs, while Monmouth saw a record-breaking performance from senior quarterback Alex Tanney
Tanney, who had broken the record for career touchdown passes in NCAA history the previous week, threw for 405 yards, giving him the record for career passing yards amongst Division III players.
Fighting Scots wide receiver Mike Blodgett also had a solid performance, breaking the Monmouth record for receiving yards in a game with 239.
Hendrick sets school record
Tanney was not the only record breaker on the field, as Knox junior linebacker Mike Hendrick broke the school record for tackles in a season. Hendrick’s 17 tackles gave him 157 for the year, topping the previous best of 141.
“I tried not to think of it in terms of breaking the school record,” Hendrick said of his accomplishment. “As the season went on I just made a personal goal, to get to 150, because that would double my tackles from last season. I do like owning a record or two, but it is more about pushing myself to get better.”
Coach Eisele believes great things are still in store for the undisputed leader of Knox’s defense.
“I think Mike still has a ton of potential to get even better. He’s got great speed, and once he gets more comfortable reading plays before they happen, he will become even harder to stop. The sky is the limit for him, and we are already looking forward to how he is going to progress heading into next year.”
The Monmouth game marked the sixth game this year that Knox was leading or within one score at some point in the second half. But despite the competitive nature of most of their games, Knox still realizes that they finished the year 0-10, and that something must be done to change the results.
“There are no such things as moral victories in sports, it’s only about the wins and losses,” Mortensen said, “Those six close games mean we have to work that much harder in the off-season to turn those into wins, which in turn will give us a chance to compete for conference. With that in mind, we are going to work harder than ever because everyone is ready for Knox to start being successful.”
“We know we can fill the spots where we have people leaving,” Hendrick said. “With people we have coming back we have the confidence to be successful next year. It is just a matter of listening to our coaches and properly preparing this off-season.”
But it is not only hard work from players that is going to make a difference — it is the coaching as well.
“As coaches we need to do a better job of putting players into situations where they are going to be successful,” Eisele said. “The key is going to be getting our players to be bigger playmakers. We’ve asked them to spend more time this off-season getting comfortable with our schemes, allowing them to think less on the field and focus on reacting.”