The Prairie Fire stayed within striking distance of Monmouth College and its high-powered offense for about three full quarters before the Fighting Scots rolled off 29 straight points to claim a 56-27 win Saturday afternoon in the 123rd Bronze Turkey Game.
The Fighting Scots (9-1, 9-0 MWC), who won the Midwest Conference title outright with the victory, took a 20-0 lead early in the second quarter on a 2-play drive that ended in a 6-yard touchdown run.
Knox (0-10, 0-9 MWC) refused to go quietly and responded by putting up 21 of the next 28 points. Sophomore tailback Derek Mortensen (Crystal Lake, IL, Crystal Lake South High School) scored the first of his four touchdowns in the game on a 1-yard run with 8:38 before halftime to trim the Monmouth lead to 20-7.
The Scots scored on a 19-yard pass play at the 5:20 mark of the second quarter to extend their advantage to 27-7. Mortensen followed with another 1-yard rushing touchdown with 20 seconds remaining as the Fire closed out the half trailing 27-14.
Junior linebacker Mike Hendrick (Smithton, IL, Freeburg High School) made history for Knox in the first half. Entering the game one tackle short of the school record of 141 set by Tracy Rodgers during the 1991 season, Hendrick had seven tackles through the first two quarters and finished with a game-high 17 stops – giving him 157 on the season.
Mortensen helped the Fire close the deficit to 27-21 with 3:45 left in the third quarter on his third 1-yard TD run of the contest. The score capped off a 12-play, 73-yard drive that consumed more than five minutes.
Monmouth College followed with a pair of touchdowns through the air in a span of 2:44 for a 42-21 lead late in the third quarter.
The first TD was a 24-yard scoring play and two-point conversion at the 2:18 mark. The next possession by the Scots resulted in a 17-yard touchdown pass and successful PAT at with 1:01 to play in third stanza.
The Prairie Fire continued to move the football on offense. Knox scored its final touchdown when Mortensen again found the end zone from 1-yard out, part of a 17-play drive that covered 57 yards, trimmed the Monmouth lead to 42-27 after a failed extra point attempt.
The Scots closed out the contest with a 2-yard touchdown run with 7:17 left in the game and a 21-yard scoring pass less than a minute later.
Mortensen had 31 carries for 112 yards, both season-highs. He went over 100 yards rushing three times this season while scoring touchdowns in three consecutive games twice – including seven TDs in his last three games.
Mortensen, like Hendrick, entered his name in the Knox football record books following his performance against Monmouth. He's tied for second all-time in school history with four rushing touchdowns in a game, ranks sixth for most rushing attempts in a season (207), and is fourth for most rushing touchdowns in a season (11).
Senior Clarke Cuthbert (Oak Park, IL, Oak Park-River Forest High School) led the Prairie Fire receivers with five catches and 53 yards in his final game. He ends his career with several all-time Top 10 marks for a wide receiver: second-most receiving yards in a game (242), ninth-most receiving yards in a game (181), third-best average yards per catch in a game (30.3), fifth-best average yards per catch in a season (20.43), fourth-best average yards per catch in a career (17.1),tied for seventh-most 100 yard receiving games in a career (4), second-fewest catches to 1,000 yards(53), and the 10th most receiving yards in a career (1,422).
The Prairie Fire totaled 310 yards of offense, running for 156 and throwing for 154. Knox was a remarkable 5-for-5 on fourth down conversions and 4-for-4 in the red zone. Sophomore quarterback Drew Diaz (Niles, IL, Niles Notre Dame High School) completed 15-of-30 passes and was intercepted four times.
Monmouth College had 608 yards of total offense – 405 passing and 203 on the ground. Knox senior safety David Jewell (Spring Grove, IL, Richmond Burton Community High School) had an interception to go along with six tackles.
The Fighting Scots have now won 13 straight Bronze Turkey games and lead the all-time series against the Prairie Fire 63-50-10.