BY JD PELEGRINO
Drake falls to Iowa State in season finale 24-27
The temperature was 34 degrees in Ames, Iowa with a wind chill bringing it down to 28. Winds sailed in from the East at speeds of 5-10 mph. The freezing cold precipitation fell to the ground as snow, but immediately upon contact, turned to water. Sunday would be the first time the Drake Bulldogs would see the Iowa State Cyclones since 1985.
The Drake Bulldogs took the field at Jack Trice Stadium at 11:01 a.m. for what would be one of their biggest games in program history. No. 24 Iowa State came into the game with a record of 7-4 to Drake’s 7-3. Iowa State was projected a 99.2 percent chance of winning the contest by ESPN.
“I was thinking about it Thursday night at home, getting ready for the game, finalizing the game plan,” head coach Rick Fox said. “Man, we’ve been around the world together, we’ve been through some incredible stuff… This team’s been through so much together and I couldn’t be more proud.”
The Cyclones kicked the ball off to start Sunday’s game. Sophomore running back Braeden Hartwig returned the ball to Drake’s 25-yard line to begin the game. Checking in for the Bulldogs were fifth-year quarterback Grant Kraemer, playing in what will be his last game of his collegiate career, and senior running back Drew Lauer.
After holding off the Cyclones defensive line for four plays, while converting a first-down, the Bulldogs punted the ball to the Cyclones.
The Bulldogs defense stepped up to the challenge and held the Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy to three short plays. Solid defense and a sack by defensive lineman Erin Morgan forced the Cyclones to punt. Cyclones punter Joe Rivera bobbled the snap and the Drake defense got on it right away, dropping him at the 7-yard line. Drake began their second drive with phenomenal field position.
Drake scores first
Kraemer put the ball into the hands of RB Cross Robinson for no gain. The very next play, Kraemer connected with his tight end, fellow fifth-year Zach DeLeon for a 7-yard touchdown near the right hash (Danny Donley PAT kick). The Bulldogs took the lead early 7-0.
“This goes to tell everybody, don’t count anyone out,” Kraemer said. “We prepared our butts off, had a whole week to prepare and [the game] is a great step for Drake.”
Iowa State responds
On the second Cyclone drive of the game, RB David Montgomery single-handedly carried the Cyclones offense 54 yards in five plays. Montgomery was the only skill-position player to touch the ball all drive in efforts to respond to the Drake touchdown. The biggest play of the drive was the running back’s 39-yard rush on third-and 4 all the way down to the Drake 9-yard line.
Kraemer and the Bulldogs headed back out onto the field to carry the momentum from their touchdown drive. The offense put together a methodical drive, picking up a few yards at a time, before Kraemer hit his receiver Will Purdom for a 16-yard gain. Facing a third-and-12 at their own 47, Kraemer dropped back to throw, but stepped up to avoid a sack and threw the ball deep along the Drake sideline. The ball was underthrown intended for deep threat Steve Doran and was intercepted by Cyclones’ Brian Peavy and returned 19 yards to the Drake 29.
Iowa State takes the lead
Finishing off the third quarter and dipping into the second quarter, Montgomery carried the ball six more times for 20 yards, while Purdy completed two passes for 35 yards to his receivers Matthew Eaton and Hakeem Butler. The drive concluded with another Montgomery touchdown, his second of the day.
Drake responds with methodical TD drive
Following the kickoff, Drake came out running the ball with Hartwig. He picked up a first down after an 11-yard run on the first play. Hartwig added three more immediately after on first down, but on the next play, Kraemer dropped the snap and had to fall on it. The Bulldogs were soon faced with a third-and-10. Looking to pass, Kraemer scrambled dodging the Cyclones’ defensive line, he tucked the ball and took it for 11 yards of his own.
Mixing in a Lauer run for the Bulldogs, Kraemer ran out right, sucking in Iowa State defenders, but saw a wide open Purdom. The connection went for 18 yards. Drake now had the ball on the Cyclones 42-yard line. The Iowa State defense had some miscommunication on the following first down as Kraemer connected with DeLeon for 27 yards to the Iowa State 15-yard line.
Marching down the field play-by-play, the Bulldogs were determined to stay in the game and put up a score. Facing a wave of Cyclones rushing at him from the 2-yard line, Kraemer dumped the ball a yard into the end zone on a crossing route to Tom Pugh. Touchdown Bulldogs. The game was all tied up 14-14.
Drake defense forces four-and-out
Determined to separate themselves from the Bulldogs on the scoreboard, the Cyclones marched down the field looking for that score. Purdy had an opportunity launching the ball deep along the Cyclones’ side line for an all alone Butler. Off Butler’s finger tips, the ball was dropped.
The Cyclones were presented with a fourth-and-1 in Drake territory and elected to go for it. Forcing Purdy to scramble back 25 yards, he threw the ball to one of his receivers, but with the Drake pressure, was unable to pull it in.
“I see myself as a Division-I football player, they’re Division-I football players,” PFL defensive player of the year Drake’s Nathan Clayberg said. “We play against guys who are bigger, so when we got to the game my only thought was like yeah this is exactly who I thought they’d be. They’re going to be big, they’re going to be strong and good football players, so are we.”
Drake punt blocked
The next drive was not easy for the Bulldogs. They started out with a Lauer 9-yard rush, but were not able to convert from there. Drake punter Ross Kennedy came out onto the field to punt. Facing massive amounts of State pressure, the punt was blocked by the Bulldogs themselves. The Bulldogs’ left wing, there for punt protection, was pushed back into Kennedy’s line-of-fire. Iowa State recovered the ball.
Iowa State’s go-ahead score.
Starting the ball with excellent field position, the Cyclones only had 22 yards-to-go until they were in the end zone. Montgomery added 11 more yards on the ground, with a Purdy pass for no gain. With second-and-10 on the Drake 11-yard line, Purdy took the ball himself 11 yards into the end zone. Touchdown Cyclones. Following PAT kicker Connor Assalley’s missed extra-point kick, the Cyclones led the Bulldogs 20-14.
Drake couldn’t respond
The Bulldogs put together three plays for six yards and were in their own territory with a minute left to play in the half and elected to punt.
Bulldogs defense forced another four-and-out
The Cyclones had the ball with a minute left in the half at their own 38-yard line. Purdy completed a 24-yard pass to Butler to the Drake 38. Looking for his go-to man again, Purdy threw an incomplete pass to Butler. Purdy and his offense could not generate anymore big-time success and found themselves facing fourth-and-2 at the Drake 30-yard line. Montgomery took the handoff on fourth, but was only capable of gaining one yard. The Bulldogs’ defense came up again, and took over on offense. With under 30 seconds left in the half, Kraemer kneeled the ball, sending the game to halftime. The Cyclones led 20-14 through two quarters.
Second half starts
Iowa State was set to receive the second half kickoff and the second half was not any easier for either team as both teams were persistent on both sides of the ball. Right when Purdy and the State offense looked to be putting together a successful drive, the offense was called for a holding penalty backing them up to the Drake 43-yard line. Now first-and-20, Purdy dropped back to pass, but the pressure was too much for Iowa State as Purdy was dropped for a nine-yard loss before losing the ball himself. The fumble was recovered by Drake’s Gavin Dineen.
First points of the second half
Following the turnover by the Cyclones’ quarterback, the Bulldogs marched 20 yards for Donley to nail a field goal to put Drake behind by three. Iowa State had the lead, 20-17.
Continuing on with stellar defensive performance, the Bulldogs held backup quarterback for the Cyclones Kyle Kempt to only a few yards forcing him to throw the ball on third-and-14. Veteran linebacker Kieran Severa was ready and there. He picked off Kempt’s pass and returned in nine yards to the Drake 46-yard line.
“We’ve been dominant on defense and played good football all year,” Severa said. “Win one play at a time, stop their run one play at a time.”
Drake takes the lead
Sophomore running back Braeden Hartwig carried the ball on each of Drake’s first two plays for a total of five yards. It was the next play that Kraemer tucked the football and took it for seven yards and a first down. Kraemer threw the ball down the field 38 yards on two plays, connecting with his wide receiver Devin Cates and RB Lauer. Drake faced first-and-goal on the Cyclones’ 4-yard line, but on the first down play, the referees caught Cates for holding and backed the Dogs up to the 19. Luckily for Drake, Kraemer has big playmaking abilities and threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Cates on the next play (Danny Donley PAT kick). Drake seized the lead 24-20.
ISU responds and holds on
Purdy and Montgomery took the Cyclones 67 yards downfield in 10 plays to put ISU back on top. Purdy completed the final play of the drive to receiver Dashaunte Jones for a 7-yard touchdown (Connor Assalley PAT kick). The Cyclones took the lead for the final time on Dec. 1.
With one quarter left to play, the Bulldogs and Cyclones took turns exchanging punts back and forth. At the end of regulation, the Bulldogs would fall to the Cyclones 27-24.
“They made one more play than we did,” Fox said on why they lost. “It’s a three-point game. We’re going to look back at the film, and football games, especially these kind of games, are decided by four or five plays.”
Kraemer led the Bulldogs aerial game, completing 20-of-29 passes for 221 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception.
Purdy had an average passing day for Iowa State going 15-of-22, 153 yards, and one touchdown.
The Cyclones ran most of their offense on the ground. Montgomery took the rock 33 times for 145 yards and two touchdowns, likely winning the game’s MVP.
For Drake, Kraemer’s top weapons were tight end Zach DeLeon (four receptions, 68 yards, and one touchdown) and receiver Devin Cates (four receptions, 53 yards, and one touchdown).
On defense, Drake LB Zac Rujawitz led the team and the game in tackles with 12 total. He had four solo tackles, including one for a loss.
“Coach Fox says that there are four or five plays every game that end up determining the game, and I think that’s kind of true with your life too,” Clayberg said. “There are several experiences that you have, sometimes you know when they’re coming, sometimes you don’t, but the ones that you’ll remember forever… We were ready for that.”