For the second year in a row, the Knox College football team (1-6, 1-5 MWC) faced the Illinois College Blue Boys (6-1, 5-1 MWC) in the homecoming game. Knox entered the half down just 21-15, but the Blueboys pulled away in the second half to win 49-29.
The loss came despite senior running back Derek Mortensen rushing for 196 yards and two touchdowns. Mortensen now has over 1,000 yards this season.
Facing the number one offense and second ranked defense in the Midwest Conference in the Blueboys, the Prairie Fire got off to a rough start. Knox received the opening kickoff, and on the fourth play of the game, junior quarterback Drew Diaz, who started in place of concussed freshman Luke Oosterbaan, was intercepted for a 50-yard touchdown return to give the Blueboys a 7-0 lead. On the ensuing possession, Knox drove down the field for 11 plays before punting the ball to the Blueboys.
Illinois College took the ball 12 plays for a touchdown drive to make the score 14-0, but Knox did not give in. The Prairie Fire responded with a 60-yard drive, resulting in a one-yard touchdown run by Mortensen.
“We have moved the ball well on the ground, and I wasn’t planning on anything less [even though IC had the number two defense],” Mortensen said. “The offensive line played great. They were all in and willing to give it all to give me some room to run.”
A missed extra point left the score 14-6 before the Knox defense forced a three-and-out on the next possession. The Prairie Fire offense followed by churning out a lengthy 15-play, 87-yard drive that used up 5:26 and closed with a 10-yard pass from Diaz to senior wide receiver Mike Pinter.
“[Diaz and I] have a great chemistry. [We] constantly ran routes during the entire off-season and really gel well together … I had my biggest game of the year, and I think [our] experience together allowed for that,” Pinter said.
Pinter finished with eight catches and 67 yards, both career highs.
After the touchdown, Knox went for two in an attempt to tie the game but failed, leaving them down 14-12. The Blueboys would add another touchdown, while Knox kicker junior Phil Tallman closed the scoring in the first half with a 39 yard field goal to make it 21-15.
In what has become a habit for Knox football this season, IC pulled away in the second half. The Blueboys came out more prepared and scored on three consecutive drives, while Knox did not score once in the third quarter. Though Knox would put up a valiant effort in a comeback attempt, notching a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter, one a 9-yard pass from Diaz to freshman wide receiver Ilir Emini and the second a 17-yard run by Mortensen.
But another interception late left too little time and too much ground to make up, leaving the Prairie Fire with a 49-29 loss.
The loss came despite the continued solid play from Mortensen, who followed a career high 227-yard performance at Cornell with 195 yards against the Blueboys.
“[Mortensen] is just one of the toughest running backs I have ever seen and had the opportunity to play with. … He’s a great running back and has a lot of natural ability, and when you combine that with a 200+ pound frame, it’s hard to bring him down,” Pinter said.
Despite the individual success, Mortensen would be willing to trade some of that for team achievements.
“This season has been good individually, but I try not thinking about that because we are still 1-7. Doing well is great, but we need to have some more wins to make it all worthwhile,” Mortensen said. “When it comes to all the accolades, I don’t like to think about it on the field. It’s in the back of my mind as a personal goal, but winning means more than any record I may break.”
On his bold and tough-nosed running style, Mortensen attributed it to Knox’s style of offense, which often requires him to get first downs in short-yardage situations.
This weekend, the Prairie Fire have a bye-week and plan to use it to their advantage.
“The bye-week is definitely good. It allows us an extra week to know what Lawrence is going to bring to the table. The guys will still be practicing hard, but the bye does certainly add some more time to be mentally ready and prepared for Lawrence,” Mortensen said.
Knox’s game against Lawrence will be at home as the Prairie Fire celebrate Senior Day. Game time is 1 p.m.