Photo by Katie Kurka
BY ADAM ROGAN
The Morehead State University Eagles had decimated Drake Football’s 22-point fourth quarter as both teams looked to pick up a win in the first Pioneer Football League game of the season, with just under a minute left, the Eagles had just scored their third unanswered touchdown of the quarter and were setting up for the two-point conversion that would tie the game. MSU quarterback, Austin Gahafer, was lined up in the shotgun with three receivers stacked to the right, telegraphing a pass play.
Gahafer saw the pocket collapsing and threw the ball over the middle it sailed over the outstretched hands of his receiver, landing harmlessly out of bounds.
“As far as maturing as a football team, (it was a) great situation to be in, as long as you make the play,” head coach Rick Fox said. “We have to have people step up and make the play, and our defense did that at the end.”
The following onside kick didn’t move the required 10 yards and Drake knelt to run out the clock.
Final score: DU 30, MSU 28.
“What’s fun about our entire football team; it’s different guys … from series to series stepping up and making plays,” head coach Rick Fox said, referring to junior quarterback Grant Kraemer, who is now 2-0 in both of his starts this season, and the breakout performance from junior defensive back Terry Wallen.
With just under 10 minutes left in the first half, Drake held a slim 9-8 advantage. Its defense had just forced a three-and-out and the Eagles were punting with Wallen ready to receive the Eagles punt.
The punt was a 49-yard long bomb that Wallen fielded at the 18. Wallen beat the first defender and found a crease behind Drake’s blockers that led deep into Morehead State’s territory.
MSU’s punter tried to force him out of bounds near the 10, but Wallen kept his balance for the final few steps as he crossed the goal line to give DU its first touchdown of the game, as well as Wallen’s first career touchdown.
“Barely made it to the end zone, kind of ran out of gas there, but, hey man, I scored,” Wallen said. “It was awesome.”
Less than five minutes later, Wallen made another critical play, this time on defense.
On third and 11 in Drake territory, Gahafer attempted a pass to the sideline to extend the drive. Wallen dove in front of the receiver to break up the pass and held on for the interception, also the first of his collegiate career.
After allowing three sacks in the first quarter and a half of play, the Drake offensive line buckled down and gave Kraemer more time to throw.
This paid off in the third quarter as Drake extended its lead with a pair of touchdowns.
Starting on their own 34-yard line, the Bulldogs balanced six pass plays and six runs into a scoring drive. The score came on a one-yard scramble by Kraemer, his first career endzone trip.
Drake’s scoring was capped off with a three-yard toss from Kraemer to senior wide receiver Keegan Gallery with less than 2:30 remaining in the third.
“It’s because of (the offensive line) that we were able to score so many times,” Kraemer said.
One point of consistency for DU this season has been the play of redshirt-senior tight end Eric Saubert who led the Bulldogs in receptions (eight) and yardage (136) on Sept 24.
Although he only had one touchdown pass, Kraemer finished the game 22 for 40 with 284 yards.
The Bulldogs were up 30-8 at the beginning of the fourth, but the lead shrunk in a hurry as Morehead State began to mount its near-comeback.
Drake’s offense never had a drive last longer than five plays in the final period. Kraemer was benched for much of the period after taking a hit on a scramble.
“I think it’s more of a me being a little stingy, trying to get extra yards,” Kraemer said, “but I think I got to slide some more and protect my body so we can keep the drives going.”
The Bulldog defense, which had been tackling well and contained Morehead State’s offense to below 230 yards through three quarters, was picked apart down the stretch.
“Did we have a little complacency set in there at the beginning of the fourth quarter? Possibly,” Fox admitted. “We can’t do that in our conference. We’ve got to be spot on every time. You saw how quickly Morehead State can score … You miss a tackle or two and all of a sudden you’re in trouble. We’ve got to be more disciplined and finish the whole game that way.”
“We’re definitely a better tackling team than we did today, but we’ll work on it,” Wallen said.
Drake’s offense was still far from perfect. It turned the ball over twice and converted on a measly three of 14 third downs.
After scoring touchdowns on every trip to the red-zone in the first three games, the Bulldogs struggled in the first half within MSU’s 20-yard line. All three first half red-zone trips ended with field goals.
The difference came from senior kicker/punter Josh Lee’s flawless performance, for which he was named Pioneer Football League Special Teams Player of the Week. He made all three of his extra points and three field goals, all within 30 yards.
Lee’s six punts also helped win the field position battle. He averaged 43.2 yards per punt and pinned Morehead State within its own 30 every time, including one that was downed five yards away from the goal line.
With the imbalance of good and bad throughout the game, Wallen is still confident in his team, believing that the Bulldogs have a shot at their first PFL championship since 2012.
“It’s a long haul, man. You’ve got to forget about what happened in the past, take it one game at a time, definitely the right step forward,” he said. “We have yet to play to our potential, for sure. The sky is the limit … We’re definitely going to be top of the conference, I’m thinking, if we can put a full game together.”
The win brings Drake to .500 on the season and started PFL season on a positive note.
The Bulldogs will be on the road the next two weeks as they take on the University of Dayton on Oct. 1 and Valparaiso University in Indiana seven days later.