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The Scarlet & Black

Football surprises foes, fans

Coming off of a 28-21 loss to Cornell College, not much was expected of Grinnell Football against perennial juggernaut St. Norbert. Midwest Conference (MWC) Champions in seven of the past 10 years, the Knights likely expected nothing less than another blowout of the Pioneers, which was the case in their 55-7 win in 2008, especially after their win against nationally-ranked Wartburg College last week. 

This year, though, one more Grinnell field goal could have sent the Knights home in tears.

In a 14-11 loss, the Pioneers held the Knight’s offense to a mere 237 yards of total offense, after the Knight’s amassed over 400 yards against Wartburg the week before.

“Our defense played great, and we just didn’t quite get enough offense going,” Head Coach Max Hawsey said.  “They’re a good team—they’re good on defense, they’re good on offense. We came up three points short.”

The defense was led by the secondary, which effectively shut down St. Norbert’s consistently strong passing game. Berger, the Knights’ quarterback, passed for nearly a fifth of the total yards he passed against Wartburg, as Grinnell held him to 66 total yards passing.

“The secondary defense played great, it’s a group of really experienced guys—we have three seniors and a junior starting on secondary,” defensive back Ben Johnson ’10 said. “But it was a whole team effort, nobody had a stand-out game by himself.”

In the trenches, MWC Defensive Player of the Week Ryan Fletcher ’11 delivered an outstanding game as defensive end, racking up 2.5 sacks and forcing a fumble. A sack by Fletcher in the third quarter, with St. Norbert leading 14-3, giving the Pioneers a chance with the ball, brought a turning point to the game.

“The pass rush by the defensive line helped out a lot,” Johnson said. “Ryan Fletcher was making plays whenever we needed him.”

On offense, the Pioneers struck first with a field goal, taking an early lead of 0-3. By the end of the first half, they were down 7-3, and St. Norbert quickly jumped to a 14-3 in their first drive of the second half. However, a hurry-up offense mixed with long, controlling drives by the Pioneers deflated the Knights.

“We had a couple of good drives [in the third quarter], and then stopped them for the rest of the game with our defense. After that first drive of the third quarter, they didn’t do anything,” Hawsey said.

The Pioneers scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter on a trick play with receiver Robert Seer ’12 making the pass, to bring the score to 14-9 with around five minutes left. The two-point conversion was good, and the Pioneers had the momentum in their favor, bringing the score to 14-11—a difference of a field goal.

Grinnell was unable to capitalize on their final driving, turning it over on downs and allowing St. Norbert to run the clock down to zero.

“We needed one more series to take it down and score just a field goal,” Hawsey said.

However, even with the loss, a certain bit of pride was evident in the bleachers and the team. Rather than a grim walk off the field, players stuck around with smiles on their faces. The three-point loss, especially when compared to last years’ 48-point deficit against St. Norbert, was in many ways proof that the Grinnell football program is on its way up.

The Pioneers will take their 0-2 record to Carroll College tomorrow. Both teams are currently winless, and the competition will be stiff, determining who goes home with a win and who moves to 0-3.

“It’s our first chance since I’ve been here to beat one of the top teams in the conference—they finished third last year,” Johnson said. “It’d be a huge deal for our program to knock off a team like that.”

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