After last week’s loss against the Ohio Wesleyan University Bishops, the Kenyon football team came back on Saturday for their second home game of the season. This time they faced the DePauw University (Ind.) Tigers, who defeated the Lords 38-6 last season, and have not lost to Kenyon since 2013. Unlike last year, the Lords hung on to the very end, actually outgaining the Tigers by 67 yards. However, a combination of fumbles and poor offensive line performance prevented the Lords from turning their offensive output into points, leading to their loss of the hard-fought game 21-7.
The first play of the game felt familiar to the Lords, who have struggled all season on special teams. Returner Eddie Pozo ’20, who assumed the role after fellow running back Jack Provenza ’23 had encountered difficulties holding on to the ball against Catholic University, fumbled a ball that was recovered by DePauw on the Lords’ 19-yard line.
However, thanks to some stand-up defense by the Lords, the Tigers only advanced to the 17-yard line, and missed a 34-yard field goal. A near-identical situation happened five minutes later, this time when returner Justin Bosch’s ’21 fumble was recovered by the Tigers at the Kenyon 10-yard line. Once again, the DePauw kicker missed, this time wide right.
“Our defense really stepped up,” quarterback Thomas Merkle ’20 said. “When we were screwing up, our defense held them to no points, which gave us confidence.”
In the first half, the Tigers scored two touchdowns, with both drives starting on the Tigers’ side of midfield. In the meantime, the Lords struggled to get their offense going, with their only sustained drive still falling 26 yards shy of the end zone.
To start the second half, the Lords defense helped to spark the offense. The Lords held the Tigers to a total of 13 yards the entire third quarter. To start the fourth quarter, Tom Zaleski ’20 tipped a ball at the line of scrimmage which was intercepted by a sliding Trevor Brown ’20. The interception set up the only score of the game for the Lords: a 20-yard touchdown pass from Merkle to starting running back Jimmy Andrews ’21.
On a larger note, the Lords defense has had an incredible start to their season. Among NCAA Division III defenses who have competed in at least three games, the Lords rank third in 3rd down conversion percentage, only allowing the opponents to convert seven 3rd downs on 36 attempts all season. They continued the trend against DePauw, with the Tigers going 2 for 11 on 3rd downs.
However, similar to last week, a punt ultimately sunk the Lords. This time, the Tigers blocked a punt with around seven minutes remaining, starting with possession at the Kenyon 35-yard line. With only one timeout remaining, the Tigers kept the ball on the ground to run out the clock while simultaneously putting the score out of reach. The pivotal play of the drive happened on 3rd-and-2 from the Kenyon 10-yard line, the area of the field where the Tigers had already missed two field goals. Unfortunately, one of the two Tiger third-down conversions came on that play: a 2-yard rush by running back Liam Pooler. With a fresh set of downs, the Tigers were able to put the ball in the endzone and win the game 21-7.
The Lords next game this Saturday will also take place at noon on McBride Field, wrapping up their three-game homestand. Their opponent will be the Hiram College Terriers, the only team in which they came within a single score of defeating last season.
“We feel really confident about this game plan [for Hiram],” Merkle said. “We have good expectations going in… so hopefully we can just go out and execute.”