BY ADAM ROGAN
After getting shellacked 38-7 two weeks ago against the University of San Diego, Drake Football (4-4, 3-2 PFL) rebounded offensively and defensively against the Campbell University Camels with a 33-21 victory.
A crowd of nearly 1,750 fans supported the Bulldogs in their second-to-last home game of the season. The Bulldogs were looking to get back to .500 overall and over .500 in the Pioneer Football League after getting shellacked 38-7 last week against the University of San Diego. The Camels entered the game with a 3-3 record after losing 30-24 in overtime to Stetson University last week.
Drake started the game with a three-and-out when junior quarterback Grant Kraemer’s scramble ended up one yard short of a first down. Josh Lee sent a booming punt inside Campbell’s 10-yard line where returner Trey Sanders muffed a fair catch. Drake sophomore Zac Rujawitz fell on the fumble, and the Bulldogs took control 53 yards downfield.
Two plays later, Kraemer found senior tight end Andrew Yarwood open in the back of the end zone to put the Bulldogs on the board less than three minutes into the game.
Campbell’s offense nearly made up for its special teams mishap on the following possession, driving 57 yards in 12 plays to move from its own 16 to Drake’s 27. But on 2nd-and-7, Campbell QB Anthony Robbins had a pass jumped by junior defensive back Terry Wallen. He returned the interception 58 yards to the Campbell 17 to give Drake great field possession yet again.
Kraemer was nearly sacked on the first play from scrimmage, but scrambled out of the pocket — something he was forced to do time and again in the first half — and completed a 5-yard pass to junior tight end Cole Neary. On the next play, Kraemer lobbed a pass to fifth-year senior wide receiver Zach Zlabis on a fade route. Zlabis pulled it in as he fell out of bounds to put Drake up 14 less than halfway through the first quarter.
The early scoring was a stark contrast from Drake’s performance two weeks before against the San Diego when the Bulldogs only managed 229 yards of total offense and scored just once on a fourth quarter touchdown.
“That one hurt so badly,” head coach Rick Fox said. “What we didn’t do (against San Diego) … is play free, play relaxed … That’s (why) I was so proud of them today, because that’s what they did.”
Even if the Bulldogs’ first two TDs came from great field position, their third score would be a tribute to success in the passing game. Drake’s final possession of the first quarter started with a quick slant route completed to redshirt-senior Eric Saubert who broke several tackles on a 55-yard gain.
That drive almost ended on a third-down interception thrown by Kraemer, but a defensive holding call extended the possession.
Three plays later, Saubert wasn’t able to pull down a third-down, one-handed grab that would’ve extended Drake’s lead to 20. Josh Lee finished the drive with a 29-yard field goal.
The Campbell offense responded on its first drive of the second quarter. A 46-yard rush by Aaron Blockmon highlighted an 8-play, 70-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown pass, making it a two-score ball game.
“(Campbell) did some great adjustments in the second quarter that was giving us problems and getting ourselves in bad situations,” Fox said of the Camels’ defense. “They were bringing pressure, and so that was tough.”
The Camels got the ball back quickly after Kraemer threw an interception on a deep pass into solo coverage, but the same thing happened to Campbell five plays later.
Wallen nearly got beaten on a fly route down the right sideline, but recovered and ripped the ball from the Campbell receiver’s grasp at Drake’s 25-yard line for his second interception of the game and team-leading third of the season.
Again, the Bulldogs weren’t able to do anything with less than desirable field position as they only gained two yards and were forced to punt.
Both of Drake’s first half touchdowns came on drives that started inside the red zone, or the “blue zone” as the Bulldogs call it. On its other six drives in the first half, the Bulldogs only managed six points on two field goals. They averaged less than 1-yard per run in the first half, but more than 16 yards per pass and held a 20-7 lead at halftime.
“The blue zone is the toughest place to be successful offensively … I don’t want to diminish what our guys did there those two drives, because if we walk away on field goals on those, you take away eight of our points,” Fox said. “… Our assistant coaches did a great job at half time in really adjusting the plan, and then our guys really executed it in the second half.”
Kraemer, who has only started six games under center so far in his career, found eight different receivers for 184 yards in the first half. He would finish the game with 304, his first 300-yard passing performance.
Campbell struck first in the second half. Robbins completed a pass to Blockmon at the 10-yard line, who proceeded to battle his way across the goal line, carrying three Bulldogs into the end zone with him. That brought the score to 20-14 with 8:47 remaining in the third quarter.
Drake running backs Conley Wilkins and Brock Reichardt broke their running woes in response, gaining 52 rushing yards in seven plays to start the drive.
That possession ended with a 2-yard Wilkins touchdown run to cap off a drive that featured 11 rushes, just one pass and octupled Drake’s total rushing yards from 10 to 80. After a failed 2-point conversion, the Bulldogs held a 26-14 lead.
“That was a huge drive,” Fox said. “… I think that sparked our offense.”
Wilkins finished the game with 82 yards on 28 attempts. Reichardt had 26 on four.
“The running game just started going through and when that started working the passing game just opened up and made everything a lot easier,” Kraemer said. “… Our o-line did a great job at just turning the switch in the second half and they just started getting all of their double teams and their blocks.”
Drake’s next drive had the chance to put the game out of reach. The Bulldogs started at Campbell’s 38 after an 18-yard punt return by Wallen and were in the red zone after one play, but Kraemer made an off-balance, ill-advised throw on third-and-goal right into the arms of Camel defenders. It was Kraemer’s second interception of the game and seventh of the season.
Campbell made Drake pay. A 44-yard completion to Blockmon moved the ball to Drake’s 25. A diving catch by Campbell’s Austin Fleming brought the Camels down to the two. Senior running back Jared Joyner found the end zone on the next play, shrinking Drake’s lead to five.
Kraemer made up for his mistake midway through the fourth quarter. On 1st and 10 at Campbell’s 33, Kraemer rejected Fox’s play call for a choice of his own. The switch led to a 23-yard completion to sophomore wide receiver Devin Cates.
“Usually when a quarterback … does that,” Fox said, “they’ve seen something and they know it’s there, and I just pointed to him and said ‘Go ahead, take it.’ And he took it.”
Two plays later, Wilkins scored his second touchdown of the game on a 5-yard rush, his seventh TD of the season.
With less than seven minutes left, a defensive holding call erased a Bulldogs’ third-down stop and kept the Camels in business inside Drake’s 20. Three plays later, Drake senior defensive lineman Ximi Asani got his first sack of the season, Drake’s second of the game, and pushed Campbell into a fourth-and-23 situation.
Down 12, the Camels decided to go for it, but Robbins’ pass fell incomplete in the end zone.
The Bulldogs retook possession and ran the clock down to 34 seconds, graced with a roughing the punter call on what would’ve been a three-and-out and given the ball back to Campbell with more than two minutes left.
That may have been one of the final penalties of the game, but it sure wasn’t the only one. The Camels and Bulldogs combined for nearly 200 penalty yards on 20 infractions, not to mention the game’s four declined penalties.
Fox wasn’t bothered by his team’s seven penalties, save for one unsportsmanlike conduct.
“You’ve got to keep your poise in those tough situations, but the other part of it is when you’re playing aggressive football, you’re going to have penalties you know?” Fox said. “… The team that’s aggressive, … that’s the one that’s probably going to be successful.”