Jacksonville Football Drops Heartbreaker to Drake

Cred: Fran Ruchalski
Cred: Fran Ruchalski

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville University came from behind to score two fourth quarter rushing touchdowns, but a pair of late Grant Kraemer passing touchdowns led to a heartbreaking 31-27 setback to Drake University Saturday at D.B. Milne Field.

Jacksonville (4-4, 3-2) ran for 252 yards, possessed the ball for 34:33, and forced three interceptions against Drake (5-4, 4-2), but the Bulldogs were a perfect four-of-four on fourth down attempts, including one each on their last two scoring drives. The JU rushing total, added to the last two games, gives the Dolphins 1,039 yards on the ground the last three weeks. It is the best three-game mark in school history that tops the 968-yard mark from Oct. 17 to Nov. 7, 1998.

"It was two evenly matched football teams that came down to critical situations in the fourth quarter, and Drake made more plays than we (JU) did," said Head Coach Ian Shields. "It's a painful loss because in many ways we played well enough to win. I was pleased with our effort. I thought we played exceptionally hard. We need to execute better down the stretch and that was the difference today."

Rylan Wells led Jacksonville with 101 yards rushing, and became the first Dolphin to rush for over 100 yards in consecutive games since Ulysses Bryant did so in 2014. He put the Dolphins on the board first with a 23-yard passing strike to Brian Burnett on the opening drive of the contest.

Each team then traded punts before the Dolphins reeled off a season-best three interceptions of Kraemer. KJ Jenkins and Gabe Stewart each gained their first pick of the season, and freshman CJ Lewis reeled in his second on a one-handed end zone interception.

Jacksonville scored twice more in the first half on field goals by Javier Arce-Ramirez. The redshirt-freshman connected on tries from 40 and 37 yards and has made his last six kicks.

Drake scored its first points of the day late in the half on a five-yard catch by tight end Eric Saubert that finished a five-play, 65-yard drive and left only 36 seconds remaining.

The Bulldogs scored twice after the intermission on a 38-yard field goal by Josh Lee that hit off the upright, then crossbar, and fell through, and later grabbed their first lead a 19-yard rush by Conley Wilkins. Wilkins ran for 195 yards on 28 touches in the game.

The Dolphins regained momentum on a critical seven-play, 77-yard drive following the Wilkins' score. Facing third-and-four from the JU 29-yard line, Wells opened the fourth quarter by shedding numerous tackles and sprinted 37 yards into Drake territory. Four plays later, redshirt-freshman Will Montgomery scored his first career touchdown on a four-yard bulldozing dive.

Jacksonville forced a punt and Wells went back to work engineering a 10-play, 66-yard march that milked over five minutes from the clock. Bryant carried the last 11 yards of the drive, with a four-yard rushing score, his fourth of the year, extending the Dolphin lead to 27-17 with 6:50 left in the fourth quarter.

Drake answered with a seven-play, 73-yard drive that was aided by a fourth-and-three conversion from its own 34-yard line. Kraemer found Saubert on a three-yard pass to cut JU lead to three with 4:39 on the clock.

Jacksonville could not move the chains on the ensuing drive, coming up short on third-and-one, and a Ryan Giaratano 44-yard punt gave Drake the football at its own 20 with 2:21. The Bulldogs overcame a third-and-21 and fourth-and-16 to steal a victory on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Kraemer to Steven Doran with only 16 seconds remaining.

Bryant finished with 14 rushes for 74 yards, Montgomery ran for 36 yards and had three catches for 27 yards, while Prince Gray topped the Dolphin receiving corp. on seven catches for 53 yards. Emon Smith tallied a season-high 14 tackles. It was the second-straight game that the Dolphins did not commit a turnover.

Up next, Jacksonville plays its final road game of the season with a 2 p.m. start on Nov. 12 at Valparaiso.