STORY BY AUSTIN CANNON
The Western Illinois Leathernecks used a third quarter surge to overwhelm the Drake football team in a 38-13 Bulldog loss Saturday afternoon in Macomb, Illinois.
The Bulldogs entered halftime only down 14-10, but two special teams plays gave WIU plenty of breathing room in the second half.
With a little under 10 minutes to go in the third, Cam Bohnert punted from his own 14-yard line to the Leathernecks’ Hi-C Scott. Scott initially fumbled the kick at his own 43, but recovered and had the juice, if you will, to return it to the Drake 34.
Ten plays later, running back Devon Moore ran into the end zone from three yards out. WIU was up 21-10 with 5:04 to go in the quarter.
Drake got the ball back, but its drive stalled at its own 39. This time, WIU’s David McDaniel blocked Bohnert’s punt. Brad Blumenshine picked it up and took it 27 yards to the house. After the extra point, the Leathernecks had a comfortable 28-10 lead with 3:55 left in the quarter.
After making it a one-possession game at the end of the first half, Drake came out with energy, but it was undone in a matter of minutes.
“The attitude was great coming out of the locker room. We were excited and ready to go,” said head coach Rick Fox. “Unfortunately, they took advantage of opportunities in those first couple series and extended that lead.
“Special teams plays, one way or the other, are always so big in a game because it affects so much with field position, and just mentally, those are tough plays to overcome,” Fox said.
After a field goal early in the fourth quarter, the Leathernecks iced the game with 7:56 left when quarterback Trenton Norvell threw a 71-yard touchdown pass to Quadarias Mireles. It was 38-10, and backups from both sides entered for garbage time duty.
Second-string quarterback Cody Thibault went in for Drake, but it was not his first action on the afternoon.
With 6:37 to go in the second quarter, Thibault entered for a series, spelling starter Andy Rice. What resulted was a seven-play, 51-yard drive that ended with a 10-yard touchdown toss from Thibault to Michael Hudson, Drake’s lone touchdown in the game.
Fox was quick to shut down any hint of a quarterback controversy. Thibault was going to get some snaps no matter how the game went.
“This was a deliberate plan we had decided (on) going into Week 2, that he was going to get at least two series. Andy’s still our guy. Andy’s a very, very good quarterback and save some dropped passes, then we’d have scored a few times,” Fox said.
Thibault, who was 4-of-4 for 53 yards on the drive, was shakier in the fourth quarter, only going 3-for-7 for 45 yards, but did lead Drake to a field goal.
“I’m really, really pleased with Cody,” Fox said. “We needed to get him reps because we’re getting ready for our conference schedule, and if Andy were to get hurt, we don’t want to put a guy in there who doesn’t have some experience behind him … Andy’s our guy right now.”
The game started in promising fashion for the Bulldogs. The Leathernecks fumbled the opening kickoff and Bob Quilico recovered it at the Leathernecks’ 17, but the Bulldogs couldn’t punch it in, and Ben Tesson missed a 37-yard field goal.
“We didn’t take advantage of that, offensively,” Fox said.
Unlike the previous two games, Drake was able to force turnovers — three, in fact. Along with the fumble recovery, safety Brad Duwe also picked off Norvell in the first quarter. John Bloss intercepted Norvell at the end of the first half, and Tesson knocked a 43-yard field goal through the uprights. In all, Drake only turned the three turnovers into three points.
There were bright spots Saturday, but the bad ultimately outweighed the good.
“We showed a lot of promise, but we’ve got to do that consistently,” Fox said.
Drake is home again for Saturday afternoon’s game — and Pioneer Football League opener — against Marist. It’s Parents and Family Weekend, and kickoff is set for 1 p.m.