By Austin Cannon
The rain stopped midway through the first quarter and the turf at Barker-Lane Stadium is artificial, so only figurative mud was responsible for rendering the Drake offense immobile. Well, that and the Campbell defense.
The Bulldogs were held to a season-low 154 total yards — 2.3 yards per play — and fell victim to a pair of big plays in their 24-14 loss to Campbell. It marked the Camels’ first-ever victory over Drake in six tries.
“We felt we should’ve won, but we didn’t show up and play our best,” cornerback Brad Duwe said.
Trailing 17-14 after three quarters, the Bulldogs could not escape their end of the field. Facing a consistent, strong wind, Drake was repeatedly pinned deep. The Bulldogs began three drives in the fourth quarter. They started at the Drake 5-, 14- and 10-yard lines.
The tenacious Campbell defense, living up to its billing as the top overall defense in the Pioneer Football League, forced the Bulldogs even closer to their goal line. Quarterback Andy Rice was sacked a staggering seven times in the final period, the primary reason the offense lost more yards than it gained. It was moving in reverse, tallying -7 yards in the final 15 minutes.
“Honestly, their defensive line just took over the game in the fourth quarter,” head coach Rick Fox said. “Especially as it progressed into the fourth quarter and we had to pass … We couldn’t get time to pass.”
Defensive linemen Ugonna Awuruonye and Syd Holt formed a fearsome duo, combining for six sacks. They preyed on a Drake offensive line missing three of its starters.
Offensive lineman Aaron Johnson said Awuruonye was “probably one of the best defensive ends we’ve seen so far.”
“That’s the best defensive line we’ve faced all year,” Fox said. “That’s the strength of their team.”
Compounding the problem was the absence of starting running back Conley Wilkins. Drake’s leading rusher was injured in Wednesday’s practice. Fox said Wilkins felt worse Thursday and didn’t make the trip. Gary Scott Jr. started in his place, and he and Brock Reichardt only combined for 68 yards on the ground.
As poorly as the fourth quarter went, Drake (2-3) grabbed the lead twice in the second and third quarters. Receiver Michael Hudson, returning from an ankle injury, was responsible for both Drake touchdowns. He hauled in a seven-yard pass from Rice with 14:13 left in the first half and ran a superb flag route for a 13-yard touchdown to give Drake a 14-10 lead with 5:21 to go in the third quarter.
Both Drake’s scoring drives were results of good field position. With Campbell kicking into the wind in those quarters, the Bulldogs started at the Campbell 41- and 49-yard lines.
“The wind was kind of strange,” Fox said. “Down low it was a breeze but it wasn’t that significant, but up high, once you got above the scoreboard, it was knocking every kick back, it was really holding it back, so that was big in the game, no doubt about it.”
The Bulldogs got the ball back for their next drive with the lead, but they only moved the ball four yards before punting. The Camels took advantage and went down the field to the Drake 14. On the next play, receiver Brian Bolling went in motion and took the handoff from Kameron Bryant. Instead of turning upfield, Bolling, a high school quarterback, stopped and threw to a streaking Andre Davis for a touchdown and a 17-14 lead.
Campbell iced the game late in the fourth. Bryant rolled out to his right and threw a 53-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Blockmon, who had gotten behind the Drake secondary. The play perhaps surprised the Drake defense that might have expected the Camels to run out the clock by sticking to the ground game.
“More than what went wrong, they just made plays,” Duwe said.
Other than the two big plays, the Bulldog defense kept the game close. Campbell only gained 300 yards on offense, and running back DeShawn Jones, who came into Saturday averaging 7.2 yards per carry, managed only 30 yards on nine carries. Linebacker John Hugunin led Drake with 11 tackles and forced his fifth fumble in as many games.
“I thought our defense did nice things, but those big plays hurt us,” Fox said.
The offense simply couldn’t respond. Rice only completed 44 percent of his passes for 114 yards, spending much of the second half under duress when the Bulldogs were forced to abandon the run game. In all, he was sacked nine times.
The schedule doesn’t get easier for the Bulldogs, who have one of the toughest slates in the PFL. Still remaining are games against preseason favorite San Diego, undefeated Jacksonville and Dayton, and 3-1 Butler. On Saturday, Valparaiso visits Drake Stadium for Homecoming weekend.
“You’ve got to keep hammering away and getting better and doing all the little things,” Fox said. “And when you do that, the wins will come.”