On Saturday, the Denison University Big Red spoiled Kenyon football’s Senior Day by defeating the Lords 41-12, but the game was not without a Kenyon highlight. Thomas Merkle ’20, with 225 passing yards in the game, brought his season total to 2,928, the most single-season passing yards by a quarterback in Kenyon history.
Intent on putting the Lords away early, Denison (8-2; NCAC 7-2) jumped to a 24-0 lead in the very first quarter of play. Though the Lords (3-7; NCAC 2-7) outscored the Big Red in the second half, their efforts proved too little and too late as Denison cruised to their 10th consecutive victory over Kenyon.
Denison ran the ball relentlessly during their first possession of the game, wearing down the Kenyon defense in the process. Capitalizing on their opponents’ fatigue, Denison finished off the drive with a 20-yard touchdown pass to take a 7-0 lead.
Kenyon’s ensuing possession got off to an inauspicious start, as a botched kickoff return forced the Lords to start the drive at their own one-yard line. Things went from bad to worse for the Lords when they fumbled two plays later to give Denison a first down at Kenyon’s own five-yard line. On the next play, the Big Red were the beneficiaries of a defensive holding penalty that negated an interception by Curt Williams ’18, allowing Denison to retain possession. The Big Red took advantage of the penalty and registered a two-yard touchdown to take a 14-0 lead.
Driving down to Kenyon’s eight-yard line on their next possession, the Big Red made it a three-touchdown game when Kenyon’s defense bit on a play-action pass play, allowing Denison’s quarterback to toss the ball to a wide-open receiver in the end zone. Denison added a 23-yard field goal to make the score 24-0 after the first 15 minutes of play.
After a disastrous first quarter, Kenyon’s defense managed to temper Denison’s explosive offense, conceding only one touchdown in the second quarter to enter halftime at 31-0.
Kenyon faced a 38-0 deficit in the third quarter after Denison’s fourth passing touchdown of the day. Ian Bell ’18 responded and got the Lords on the scoreboard, taking a direct snap and running the ball into the endzone from 16 yards out. Failing to convert on the point-after-touchdown attempt, Kenyon trailed Denison 38-6.
Denison added to its lead with a 48-yard field goal later in the third quarter, but Merkle did the Big Red one better, connecting with Ian Robertson ’19 down the left sideline for a 36-yard touchdown pass to make the score 41-12. With the completion, Merkle surpassed Chris Creighton ’91, current head football coach at Eastern Michigan University, for most passing yards in a single season by a Kenyon quarterback.
Finishing the season with the second-highest output of passing yards in the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC), the Lords look to develop other aspects of their play over the offseason. “Next year, I think we really need to be better at finishing games — starting fast, as well,” Brandon Byrd ’18 said. ”As long as we can do that, I think our record will be a lot better, and just having a better attitude coming out to games.”