Carleton Knights Defense, Special Teams Douse Prairie Fire
In mythology, Knights were supposed to slay fire-breathing dragons, but these Carleton Knights showed Saturday afternoon that they can put out fires of a whole different nature. The Carleton football team rode a dominating defense and special teams that was truly special on their way to 40-14 win over the Knox College Prairie Fire for their first win of the season.
After last week’s last second loss the Knights had a big chip on their shoulder and wanted to come out and make a clear statement that this game was going to be theirs. Statement made. The Knights took the opening drive of the game 51 yards for a touchdown, and with the two-point conversion they were up 8-0. The drive was initially setup by a 37-yard kick-off return by Dylan Saline to the Carleton 49, which gave the Knights incredible field position to start the day. QB Zach Creighton took over from there, completing three passes for 19 yards and rushing for 6 yards more. From the Knox 18 they turned to star tailback Chris Madden, who completed the drive with runs of 7 and 11 yards for the score. Creighton ran in for the two-point conversion to stake Carleton to the lead.
From there the defense took over. Knox had the ball for three full drives in the first quarter and began their fourth drive in the first, but the Knights defense stymied them at every turn, allowing just one first down, while picking off two Matt McCaffrey passes. The first was by Mitch Heflin who returned the ball 11 yards to the Knox College 30. Madden added his second touchdown of the game on a 23-yard jaunt after the turnover.
On the Prairie Fire’s next possession McCaffrey was picked off again, this time by Luke Reppe who returned the interception four yards to the KC 28. The drive would stall, but kicker Brandt Davis added his second field goal of the game and the first quarter ended with Carleton leading 21-0.
The second quarter saw the Prairie Fire move the ball a little more effectively, but still with no points to show for it. In fact, the deepest penetration Knox was able to muster was to the Carleton 46. Terry White found very little running room and McCaffrey was having trouble finding any time to throw.
The Knights, on the other hand, were still finding some room to move the ball. Andy Gustafson added a touchdown on Carleton’s first drive of the second quarter, capping off an 8-play, 82-yard drive. Creighton had a big series for the Knights, completing two passes, including a 37 yard strike to Robert Deng and he had a run of 14 yards.
The half ended 28-0, and the route was on at that point.
Knox began the second half with a solid drive, moving the ball to the Carleton 48 yard line, but that is when the Knights defense kicked back into gear. On third and five Luke Reppe and Daniel Cook converged on McCaffrey, sacking the Knox QB for a nine yard loss, and the Prairie Fire was forced to punt.
Niether team was able to move the ball for much of the quarter. Carleton had the ball for just five plays, totaling five yards, and they turned the ball over on a fumble. Knox did not do much with their second drive of the half, but on the third they put together a long drive that finally was able to find a crack in the armor of the vaunted Carleton defense.
The Prairie Fire recovered a fumble at the Knights 47 and from there the team turned to the ground game. White and McCaffrey carried the ball six times total for 26 yards down to the Carleton 15. There McCaffrey hit Matthew Hemmingsen for the touchdown and the Prairie Fire were on the scoreboard.
On KC’s next possession, it was time for the defense to step up again. Starting from their own 12, Knox was pushed back five yards on a penalty and on second and seven from the 10, Omar Reyes chased down McCaffrey for the sack in the end zone and a safety. Davis then added a 42-yard field goal to make it 33-7.
Knox had one last big drive in them. Following the field goal they started at their 34 and moved 66 yards on 6 plays for the touchdown. McCaffrey went to the air, completing four of six pass attempts, all to Ilir Emini. The last one was a 24-yard pass that gave the Prairie Fire their second touchdown of the game, and after the extra-point it was 33-14.
Knox College attempted an on-side kick that was recovered after it went out of bounds at the 50, giving Carleton the ball. They didn’t have it for long however. Madden was handed the ball and burst through the line virtually untouched for a 50-yard scamper and a Knights touchdown. Madden had an outstanding day on the ground, carrying the ball just 12 times for 117 yards and three TDs. Creighton and Gustafson also had nice days carry the ball, with the QB gaining 51 yards and Gustafson adding 40 more.
While the offense had a huge day, it was the defense that looked especially stout. They recorded three sacks on the day and intercepted two passes. Knox gained just 207 total yards and had a gain per play average of 3.8 yards and averaged just 2.2 yards per carry. It was an absolutely dominating defensive effort.
What cannot be neglected is the incredible play of the special teams. Davis kicked three field goals, including a 42-yarder, and the Knights return game gave their offense great field position all game long. Madden had a kick-off return of 51 yards, and a punt return of 61, and Saline added a 37 yarder. Along with the two interceptions it created a short field that the Knights offense took advantage of all day.
By Robert Pannier
Senior Writer Covering the MIAC