JU knocks off Davidson to open conference play, 27-21
The JU football team survived a late rally to open its Pioneer Football League title defense with a 27-21 win over Davidson at D.B. Milne Field on Saturday.

Sporting a 27-7 lead entering the fourth quarter, the Wildcats got two scores to cut the deficit to six and Mark Hanabury’s last ditch reception came up a yard short of a first down with just over a minute to go as Joseph Fennell got the last of his six tackles to seal the win for JU.

Rudell Small rushed for a season-high 110 yards with one touchdown, while Josh McGregor threw for 261 yards and two scores to lead JU (2-2, 1-0 PFL) to its first win over Davidson since 2005.

Haywood Range led the JU defense with seven tackles, including two for a loss, as the dolphins racked up four sacks and 10 tackles for a loss.

“We’re still a young football team that has a lot to learn,” said JU head coach Kerwin Bell. “You’ve got to give Davidson a lot of credit for coming back when we had them down 27-7. We had chances to extend the lead and we have to learn to have that killer instinct to be a championship team.”

JU had built a 20-point lead with a steady offensive effort and strong defensive play. JU was moving the ball at will – rolling up 376 yards in the first three quarters while holding the Wildcats to just 143 yards.

The Wildcats then turned the tables in the fourth quarter – piling up 139 yards in the final stanza, with 66 of that coming in the air from Matt Heavner, who came on in relief of starter Matt Blanchard.

JU opened the game with a 10-play, 81-yard drive culminated in an 11-yard touchdown pass from McGregor to Jarvis Williams for his first collegiate touchdown that took up the first 4:55 of the game.

Davidson answered early in the second quarter when Kenny Mantuo scored from a yard out to cap an 11-play, 76-yard drive to tie the game.

The Dolphins finished the first half with a flurry – scoring twice in the final 10 minutes to take a 21-7 lead into the intermission. Josh Philpart caught his third touchdown pass of the season, a 20-yard strike from McGregor, to put JU up 14-7.

With 1:04 left in the half, Small scored on a bruising 11-yard run to send the Dolphins into halftime with momentum.

Coming out of the locker room, JU seemed to put the nail in Davidson’s coffin as McGregor scored on a 11-yard to push the lead to 27-7 with 4:40 left in the third quarter.

Similar to the past two meetings, Davidson had a fourth quarter comeback in them.

With Davidson going to its backup Heavner, the Wildcats started moving the ball up and down the field – cutting the deficit to 27-14 on a Mantuo’s second 1-yard touchdown run.

The Wildcat defense then forced a 3-and-out, watching the Dolphins lost 29 yards in the process to get the ball at the JU 24-yard line. Five plays later, Heavner hooked up with Mark Hanabury on a 7-yard touchdown pass to cut the deficit to six, 27-21, with 7:41 remaining in regulation.

JU drove into field goal range, but Donovan Curry’s 51-yard field goal attempt sailed wide to the left and the Wildcats got the ball back with 5:34 left in the game.

Davidson’s final drive saw the Wildcats extend the drive on second down with a 15-yard completion, and then facing a third-and-5 situation got six yards as Heavner completed a pass to Jonathan Adams for a new set of downs.

The Dolphins defense got stingy from there when Oscar Johnson snuffed out a screen pass to Mantuo on third down that setup Fennell’s tackle on the final offensive play to seal the win for JU.

Heavner finished the game 7-of-10 passing for 66 yards and one touchdown. Hanabury had nine catches for 146 yards and one touchdown for Davidson.

McGregor was 18-of-28 passing, with 10 different Dolphins getting a reception in the game – led by Tommie Rogers with four for 16 yards. Larry Thompson led the receiving corps with 62 yards on two catches.

The Dolphins return to PFL play with their first trip to Marist. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.