The McKendree University football team was defeated Saturday afternoon in its 2016 road opener at FCS (formerly NCAA Division I-AA) member Drake University, 28-16.
The Bearcats jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead in the first six minutes of play, but the host Bulldogs reeled off 28 unanswered points to pull ahead and claim the victory. McKendree slips to 2-1 on the year and will be at home Sept. 24 to kick off its Great Lakes Valley Conference schedule against William Jewell College. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at Leemon Field.
“You have to give Drake a lot of credit,” said McKendree football coach Mike Babcock following the contest. “We jumped out on them quickly but they settled down and started to get in a flow over the final three quarters. They took advantage of the little things we were not doing well. We need to work on paying attention to detail as we get ready for conference play. But our guys fought all the way to the final gun. I told them after the game I was proud that they didn’t give up and gave Drake fits all the way to the end.”
For the third consecutive game, senior defensive end Lucky Baar (Chicago, Ill./Morgan Park) recorded three quarterback sacks for McKendree. Baar now has 38 career sacks with the Bearcats, which ties him with Oku Satcher for the program’s career lead. Satcher registered his 38 sacks during his three seasons at McKendree from 1999-2001.
Freshman Brandon Wildman (Monticello, Ill./Monticello) made his first career start at quarterback for McKendree and completed 14-of-29 pass attempts for 173 yards. It was Wildman’s legs, however, that gave the Bearcats an early advantage. McKendree took possession in Drake territory at the 46-yard line following a fake punt by the Bulldogs. Three plays later, the Bearcats faced a fourth-and-four at the Drake 39-yard line. Wildman faked a handoff and raced down the right sideline 39 yards for a score. Senior kicker Steven O’Block (Libertyville, Ill./Carmel Catholic) added the point after to give McKendree a 7-0 lead just 2:37 into the contest.
Senior defensive back Jabaree Winston (Chicago, Ill./Simeon) intercepted a Drake pass on the ensuing possession, which led to a 29-yard field goal by O’Block to extend the McKendree lead to 10-0 with 9:25 left in the opening period. The Bearcats maintained their 10-point advantage as the defensive unit limited the Bulldogs to just 34 yards of total offense over the first 20 minutes of play.
Drake (1-2) put together a 15-play, 77-yard drive to get on the scoreboard and cut the McKendree lead to 10-7 with 4:50 remaining until halftime. Then with just 41 seconds remaining before the intermission, the Bulldogs took the lead for good on a pass from Grant Kraemer to Andrew Yarwood for five yards, pushing Drake in front at 14-10. The hosts then tacked on two more touchdowns in the third quarter to extend the margin to 28-10.
On the first drive of the fourth quarter, McKendree junior quarterback Elcee Burke (Chicago, Ill./Simeon) floated a 10-yard touchdown pass to sophomore tight end Skylar Paulson (Lanark, Ill./Eastland) with 11:58 remaining. Burke’s pass on the ensuing two-point try was batted away at the last second, leaving the Bearcats with a 28-16 deficit. McKendree looked to edge closer with just under six minutes on the clock, but the drive stalled and the Bearcats were faced with a fourth-and-12 play at the Drake 29-yard line. Wildman dropped a pass into the hands of sophomore wide receiver Jalyn Williams (Carbondale, Ill./Carbondale) at the Bulldogs’ five-yard line, but Brandon Bullock was able to jar the ball loose just before Williams came down with the catch.
In addition to his touchdown pass, Burke led McKendre with 50 rushing yards on 14 attempts. Junior running back Shayeen Edwards (Cahokia, Ill./Cahokia) added 43 yards on 13 carries. Williams led the Bearcats with four receptions good for 36 yards. Senior wide receiver Sean Dowling (Chatham, Ill./Glenwood) had a team-leading 73 receiving yards.
Senior linebacker A.J. Wentland (Machesney Park, Ill./Harlem) – who became McKendree’s career leader in tackles during last Saturday’s victory over West Liberty University – paced the Bearcats with a game-high 14 stops at Drake. Junior defensive back Weston Brown (Murietta, Calif./Murietta Valley) chipped in with seven tackles, while Baar was among a group of four McKendree players with five tackles apiece. As a team, the Bearcats registered six sacks against Drake’s Kraemer, who also threw for 241 yards and three touchdowns in the effort.