BY ADAM ROGAN
Behind 24-27 on fourth and 16 with less than two minutes remaining, Drake Football (5-4, 4-2 PFL) seemed a long shot to come back on the road against the Jacksonville University Dolphins (4-4, 3-2 PFL). Junior quarterback Grant Kraemer connected with sophomore wide receiver Steven Doran for a 26-yard completion to give the Bulldogs a new set of downs in Jacksonville territory.
Two plays later, Kraemer found Doran again for another first down that moved the ball into the red zone. On the next snap, Doran got open in the end zone and Kraemer delivered the touchdown pass to give Drake the lead with only 16 seconds left on the clock.
The Drake defense allowed the Dolphins into their attacking half, but the clock ran out and the Bulldogs picked up their fifth win of the season, 31-27.
After Jacksonville had scored its second touchdown of the fourth quarter to take a 10-point lead with 6:37 remaining, the pressure fell on Drake’s offense.
Eight plays and 73 yards later, Kraemer had his second touchdown of the day on his second completion to redshirt-senior tight end Eric Saubert.
When the Dolphins retook possession, they simply needed to run out the 4:39 left to seal their would-be victory. Two run plays brought a third and one. Jacksonville went to the ground again, but fifth-year seniors Michael Roane and Caz Zyks plugged the running lane and forced a punt.
Drake retook possession at its own 21-yard line with two timeouts and 2:21 remaining. Two first down rushes by running back Conley Wilkins helped move the ball to midfield, but an incomplete pass and an 11-yard sack nearly put the game out of reach. But that’s when Kraemer hit Doran for the 26-yard completion to keep the drive and Drake’s hopes alive, soon followed by the game-winning TD.
On the final drive, Kraemer went 5-for-6 for 74 yards, a near-perfect finish to a game he’d been struggling in. Entering the fourth quarter, Kraemer only had one touchdown, three picks and less than 100 passing yards.
He finished the game 15 for 29 for 208 yards with three TDs, three INTs and 19 yards gained on the ground.
Wilkins’ performance isn’t to be overlooked either. On 28 runs, the senior picked up 195 yards, was only stopped in the backfield once and scored a touchdown in the third quarter. He set up the TD on his own when he completed a 35-yard pass on a trick play to senior wide receiver Grant Menard who had 142 receiving yards on the day, a career high.
The Bulldogs greatly benefited from Menard’s big day, since Saubert, Drake’s leader in receiving touchdowns (7), yards (588) and catches (48), only had two receptions; albeit, both of them were in the end zone.
Doran also had a breakout game. After redshirting last year, he only had two career catches for 20 yards entering Saturday. Doran wasn’t even targeted until the fourth quarter, but had four of Kraemer’s five completions on the final drive for 60 yards.
All three of Kraemer’s interceptions came in the first half on consecutive possessions. Drake’s defense stepped up in response, only allowing six points on the ensuing drives.
Senior linebackers Zyks, Mike Maize and Rory Driscoll each finished in the double-digits for tackles to lead the Bulldog D. Senior lineman Tanner Evans delivered what was probably his best collegiate performance, contributing a sack to go along with career highs in tackles (9) and tackles for a loss (3).
“Our defense was awesome, because we had three turnovers in the first-half and put them out on the field a lot,” head coach Rick Fox told Drake Athletics. “They stepped up and made plays.”
Drake will play its final home game of the season this Saturday when they host the Butler University Bulldogs. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.