SAN DIEGO, Calif – A late fourth-quarter rally from the Drake University football team’s fell short just short, as the San Diego Toreros outlasted the Bulldogs, 23-13, in the season finale for both teams Saturday afternoon at Torero Stadium.
Drake’s offense, which had put 500 or more yards in its last two games, struggled against the tough San Diego (8-3, 7-1 PFL) defense. Drake (6-5, 5-3 PFL) ran 59 plays for 246 total yards, while San Diego ran 73 plays for 292 yards, well below the Toreros’ season average as well as Drake’s defense pitched another solid effort. Junior John Hugunin (Oswego, Ill.) led the that defense with 10 tackles on the day while senior Matt Acree (Shawnee, Kan.) had two sacks to captain the defensive pressure that sacked the Torero quarterback five times.
“I’m really proud of our defense, no question those guys fought incredibly hard against a great, great offense, " Drake head coach Chris Creighton said. "Our defense played really, really well, and they were out there a long time. I think that was part of San Diego’s plan to possess the ball.”
Drake junior quarterback Andy Rice (Stevens Point, Wis.) was 22-for-33 passing for 194 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. His top target was senior Nick Rosa (Owasso, Okla.) who caught seven passes for 82 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
While San Diego was held well below its season scoring average of 40 points per game, it found the endzone twice in the fourth quarter to preserve the win. Mason Mills was 29-for-47 passing with three touchdown passes and 287 yards to engineer the San Diego offense. The Toreros’ aerial attack was spread between Reggie Bell, Brandon White, and Bug Rivera, who each accounted for a touchdown. Steve Gargiulo disrupted Drake’s offense with eight tackles, with five coming for a loss and 2.5 sacks.
The Drake defense opened the game in stride, holding the explosive Torero offense in check on their first drive to set up good field position for the Drake offense near midfield. The Blue and White capitalized and used a nine-play, 52-yard drive to draw first blood, 7-0. Junior Gary Scott, Jr. (Forsyth, Ill.) was instrumental on the ground, using six carries to gain 38 yards to set up Rice’s pass to Rosa for the touchdown for the first of two scores between the two on the day..
The Toreros answered in the second quarter, after their drive was kept alive by a roughing the passer penalty called on Drake. A one-yard pass from Mills to White capped the 15-play, 76-yard drive, but the Toreros missed the extra point to keep Drake up, 7-6.
Drake’s defense answered the bell for the entire first half and limited the potent San Diego offense to 145 yards on 48 plays. Despite its early touchdown, Drake had limited chances on offense with only 21 plays compared to San Diego’s 48 plays as the Toreros controlled the time of possession. Despite the statistical disadvantages, Drake took a 7-6 lead into the locker room.
San Diego gained its first lead of the day, 9-7, in the middle of the third quarter with a drive starting in great field position after Sam Hoekstra returned a punt for 20 yards to the Drake 39-yard line. Although the Drake defense held strong once the Toreros got in the red zone, David Last hit a 35-yard field goal to put his team on top.
The Toreros dominated the third quarter, as their defense limited the Drake offense to just 13 yards on 12 plays. Drake’s offensive struggles took a toll on the defense as the Bulldogs’ defensive unit was on the field for 28 minutes through the first three quarters. San Diego used that to their advantage with a nine-play, 70-yard drive to extend its lead, 16-7, early in the fourth quarter.
“There was a pretty good stretch where we weren’t executing on all cylinders against a good team," Creighton said. "When one thing goes awry it makes it tough and all of a sudden you’re in a third and long situation and we weren’t able to battle through those.”
By extending its lead to 23-7 with 7:26 remaining in the game, San Diego showed control on both sides of the ball, but the Drake offense started to find its rhythm.
The Bulldogs soon found the end zone on an 8-yard completion from Rice to Rosa but could not pull within one possession as the two-point conversion was well defended by the Toreros. That touchdown was set up by consecutive big plays by the Drake offense. First Rice found Rosa for 25 yards on a 2nd and 15, then connected with sophomore Eric Saubert (Hoffman Estates, Ill.) for 19 yards to put Drake on the San Diego 8-yard line.
“Late, our offense gave us a chance to fight, and that’s what Drake football is," Creighton said. "We're never going to give up, always going to battle and give us a chance at the end.”
Drake’s rally continued by recovering the onside kick, trailing by 10 with 3:18 left in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs drove down the field, but the offensive spurt stalled as the Bulldogs could not convert on fourth down, allowing the Toreros to take over possession with 37 seconds remaining in the game and run out the clock.
Saturday’s loss concludes the 2013 campaign for Drake football with a 6-5 overall record for the program’s 10th straight winning season and 5-3 mark in Pioneer Football League play. The game was also the last for the program's seniors in the Blue and White.
“I don’t know Drake football without these guys," Creighton said of the departing seniors. "In terms of the recruiting class, these guys were the first one where we had a full year to recruit them. The thing about these guys is they’re not just football players, but they’re going to go change the world. It’s an awesome group of guys.”