NEW ULM - Finally playing in their own Homecoming game after playing as the road team in Homecoming contests in their two previous games, the Martin Luther College Knights engaged in a high-scoring battle against Greenville on Saturday in Upper Midwest Athletic Conference football action.
The Knights held an early 13-3 lead and were in fine offensive form throughout, but the Panthers' punishing run game proved to be the game-deciding factor in Greenville's 46-39 victory.
"We just played two away Homecoming games, we've got one next week, so it was good to have our Homecoming here," MLC quarterback Luke Rothe said. "We came out real nice, just hats off to Greenville, they played well."
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Martin Luther College’s Scott Henrich (11) grabs a pass in front of Greenville’s Blake Bateaste during Saturday’s college football game at MLC in New Ulm.
The game began ominously for the Knights when they lost a fumble while receiving a punt, but they rebounded with a 17-play scoring drive on their next possession to take a 7-0 lead.
The drive was capped by a nine-yard touchdown pass from Rothe to Micah Plocher, after which Shawn Scherer kicked through the extra point.
MLC held Greenville to an 18-yard field goal by Josh Frewin on the following drive, with the Knights scoring on their ensuing possession when Rothe found Scott Henrich for a six-yard touchdown pass (Scherer extra point kick wide right) to make the score 13-3 with 11:33 remaining before halftime.
It was the Panthers, however, that picked up the momentum heading into the half.
Greenville quarterback Brendan Chambers (15 carries for 86 yards, 19-for-33 passing for 230 yards) found the end zone on a 17-yard keeper (Frewin extra point good) on the Panthers' next possession. One play later the Panthers got the ball back after an MLC fumble, with the following drive resulting in a 23-yard field goal by Frewin to tie the game at 13-13.
Greenville capped a 94-yard series that began with 2:28 remaining in the half by scoring on a 22-yard pass from Chambers to Cody Hutchin (Frewin kick no good off of right-hand upright) to give it a 19-13 advantage at halftime.
In the second half, the Panthers - the No. 1 rushing team in the conference - used running backs Justin Honeycutt (28 carries for 109 yards) and Immanuel Gamble (20 carries for 119 yards) to great effect, with the pair combining for 150 yards after halftime.
Chambers worked off of Honeycutt's and Gamble's success, finding the end zone for three rushing touchdowns in the half.
"Most teams have not done that, we've only given up one or two touchdowns a game, and it's been our offense that has struggled," MLC head coach Doug Lange said. "Today we finally got some offense going, and the Greenville offense was just a bit better than our defense was today."
However, the Knights never let the game get out of hand.
After Chambers ran for a two-yard score (Frewin extra point good) to make the score 26-13, Rothe connected on a 32-yard touchdown pass with Luke Morrell (botched snap on PAT try) to cut MLC's deficit to 26-19 with 6:39 remaining in the third quarter.
Greenville then added a touchdown on a five-yard run by Chambers (Frewin extra point good) and a 19-yard field goal by Frewin to extend its lead to 36-19.
A two-yard touchdown scamper by Rothe again cut down the Panthers' lead, with a failed two-point conversion leaving the score at 36-25.
Greenville countered with a one-yard touchdown run by Chambers (Frewin extra point good), but the Knights responded with a 33-yard touchdown pass from Rothe to Henrich (two-point conversion failed).
Frewin rounded out his 4-for-4 field goal effort by converting from 31 yards out to give the Panthers a 46-31 lead with 2:53 left.
At that point, MLC started pulling out some trick plays to attempt a late comeback.
"We knew we needed quick scores, because time wasn't on our side there," Rothe said. "We pulled those out of our bag of tricks and guys just stepped up and made plays."
On the following kickoff, Galen Holzhueter caught the kick, but threw the ball across the field to Morrell, who pitched to Rothe to set the Knights up at Greenville's 45 yard line.
A pass attempt from running back Matthew Olson to Rothe in the end zone was foiled by pass interference, but Olson ran in for a 15-yard score from the wildcat formation on the next play, with Joshua Rathje running in the two-point conversion to put MLC within a touchdown at 46-39. The drive ate just 30 seconds off the clock.
However, Greenville successfully wound down the clock to seal its victory.
"That just shows our team, we fight to the finish," Rothe said. "We really stuck together. Greenville's a real good team, they ran the option real well and they made plays when they had to."
Rothe led MLC with 87 yards rushing and was 13-for-25 passing for 223 yards. Olson added 52 rushing yards and Henrich led the Knights with nine catches for 136 yards.
Benjamin Olson (12 solo tackles, 13 assists), Holzhueter (nine solo tackles, 10 assists) and Derek Loewen (10 solo tackles, three assists, sack) led MLC's defensive effort.
The Knights (2-5, 0-5) will play on the road at Northwestern on Saturday.
"The seniors, especially on defense, are hurting right now, it's their last Homecoming that they're here and a lot of them are hurting - but when it hurts, then you work harder the next week to make a comeback," Lange said.