A long drive late in the game by the Prairie Fire ended in a turnover as Ripon College claimed a hard-earned 26-20 win Saturday in Ripon, Wisconsin.
The Red Hawks (4-1, 3-1 MWC) had 28 first downs to just 13 for Knox and dominated the time of possession 39:45 to 20:15. The Prairie Fire still had a chance to tie and possibly take the lead the only time it had the football in the fourth quarter.
Ripon's Jacob Gahart kicked a 32-yard field goal at the 10:14 mark of the fourth quarter to cap off an 18-play, 65-yard drive and give the hosts a 26-20 advantage.
Knox (0-5, 0-4 MWC) took over on its own 25 yard line and drove to the Ripon 13 before the Red Hawks recovered a fumble with 3:50 left to play and never gave the ball back in its Homecoming game.
Ripon's Michael Crusan scored on a 15-yard run with 10:19 to play in the first quarter for the first TD of the contest. The Prairie Fire tied the score at 7-7 on a 20-yard scoring pass from sophomore quarterback Drew Diaz (Niles, IL, Niles Notre Dame High School) to junior Gabe Ayers (Hanna City, IL, Farmington Community High School) with 6:35 to play in the opening stanza.
Gahart hit the first of his two field goals with 10 seconds left in the first quarter for a 10-7 Ripon advantage. The Red Hawks extended the lead to 17-7 6:43 before halftime when Tom Sawyer scored on a 1-yard run.
Knox bounced right back thanks in part to a 53-yard kickoff return by junior Mike Schroeder (Glenview, IL, Glenbrook South High School) that allowed the Fire to start the drive on the Ripon 38 yard line. Diaz hit senior Clarke Cuthbert (Oak Park, IL, Oak Park-River Forest High School) with a 38-yard scoring toss with 6:28 to play in the second quarter to trim the Ripon lead to 17-14.
The teams traded 1-yard touchdown runs in the third quarter. T.J. Pierce went in for Ripon with 10:25 to play in the quarter and junior Derek Mortensen (Crystal Lake, IL, Crystal Lake South High School) scored for the Fire at the 4:37 mark to make it a three point deficit, 23-20.
The Prairie Fire gained 269 yards of offense, including 158 on the ground. Mortensen led the way with 17 carries for 78 yards. Diaz completed 6-of-13 passes for 111 yards and two touchdowns. Cuthbert led the receiving corps with three catches, including his fourth TD of the season, and 53 yards.
Knox committed two turnovers in the game -- both fumbles -- while Ripon did not turn the ball over.
The Red Hawks stayed with their game plan of running the football, gaining 365 yards on 71 rushing attempts. Ripon quarterback Matt Miller carried the ball 20 times for 115 yards and was 2-of-7 passing for 41 yards.