STORY BY AUSTIN CANNON
Four straight third quarter turnovers doomed the Drake football team in its 29-14 loss to PFL leader Jacksonville Saturday.
Drake was down only 10-7 at halftime, but the Dolphins managed to cash in two of the turnovers to take a 22-7 lead.
“We had four in a row in the third quarter where we turned the ball over in their territory,” said Drake head coach Rick Fox. “That came back to haunt us.”
On their opening drive of the second half, the Bulldogs entered Jacksonville territory, but an Andy Rice pass was intercepted by Jacksonville’s Jaree Crenshaw.
Dolphin quarterback Kade Bell threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to D’Andre Randle two plays later to give Jacksonville a 16-7 lead.
Rice was again picked off on Drake’s next two drives, both times in Dolphin territory. However, the Bulldog defense was able to keep Jacksonville off the board.
On its fourth drive of the quarter, Drake marched all the way to the Dolphin eight-yard line, but, again, disaster struck when T.J. James fumbled with 46 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Dolphins took the ball at their own 10, and Bell scampered into the end zone five plays later to up the Jacksonville lead to 22-7.
The Bulldogs put up 416 yards of offense, but could not avoid the pitfalls that kept them out of the end zone.
“It’s been kind of our thing this year — we didn’t finish drives,” Fox said.
Besides James’ fumble, the turnovers were a mix of bad routes, poor throws and insufficient blocking.
“I think more of it was just being careless in certain situations,” Fox said. “Turnovers are not just about taking care of the ball.”
Drake finally made it into the end zone in the fourth quarter via a five-yard Conley Wilkins run to pull within one possession, but Jacksonville answered. Running back Ulysses Bryant broke off a 59-yard touchdown dash to secure the game for the Dolphins.
Until that run, the Drake defense had kept Bryant mostly in check.
“Our defense held a very talented offense in reach for us,” Fox said. “So they’re playing great.”
Despite the turnovers, Drake held Jacksonville under its season averages for rushing and total yards, forcing the Dolphins to a 33 percent conversion rate on third down. All this without All-PFL linebacker John Hugunin who was out with a knee injury.
“We’ve got good linebackers in there behind and John too, and so that was no surprise,” Fox said.
The defense also recorded three sacks, two by defensive lineman Matt Acree, and one interception.
Both offenses took until the second quarter to get on the board. Drake struck first with 6:26 left when Rice found tight end Eric Saubert from five yards out.
Jacksonville pulled even later in the quarter when Bryant ran in from the two, and the Dolphins went ahead for good when Brandon Behr hit a 50-yard field goal at the end of the half.
To Fox, what separated the two teams Sunday was one thing: execution.
“There wasn’t a talent difference between the two teams.” Fox said. “Both are good football teams, but they executed better than we did, and so they won the football game.”
The turnover issue will follow Drake, 2-3 (1-1), into this week’s game at home against Davidson.
“Those are all just little things that come back to haunt you, so we’ve just got to keep coaching and keep working on that and make sure that doesn’t happen again,” Fox said.
Kickoff on Saturday is set for 1 p.m. at Drake Stadium.