Big first half leads JU past Drake, 39-34
The JU football team was rolling in the first half and survived another second half scare to upend Drake, 39-34, at D.B. Milne Filed on Saturday.

After watching the Dolphins build a 30-7 halftime lead, Drake (3-3, 2-1 PFL) battled back to have the ball with 2:34 left in the game and a chance to pull off the upset.

But JU’s Lacy McDougald ended the hopes of Drake comeback with an interception at midfield with 2:15 left to seal the Bulldogs fate.

The game marks the second straight week that JU (5-1, 3-0 PFL) has built a big first half lead, only to see its opponent come storming back in the final half.

“We’ve got a lot of mistakes to correct, but we’re thankful for the win,” said JU head coach Kerwin Bell. “Drake is a good football team, but we made too many mistakes and lost our focus at halftime.”

The rally marred what looked like a snoozer in the first half. JU was moving the ball at will, rolling up 316 yards of offense in the first half with Josh McGregor throwing for 224 yards.

The defense was solid as well, limiting Drake to just 104 yards and held the Bulldogs to negative-14 yards rushing in the opening half.

JU scored on its first possession for the first time this season, marching 62 yards on four plays – capping the drive with a 39-yard McGregor run. Josh Hostetler followed it up with a 27 yard field goal to give the Dolphins the early 9-0 lead.

Drake cut the deficit to two on a Pat Cashmore 2-yard run at the end of the first quarter.

The second quarter though belonged to JU. The Dolphins scored three touchdowns – the first on a 6-yard run by J.J. Laster, the second on Jordan Dewhirst’s 30-yard interception return and the last coming on a 33-yard touchdown pass from McGregor to Rodney Sumter.

McGregor finished the game completing 21-of-35 for 320 yards with one touchdown, while Small racked up a game-high 124 yards on 29 carries with a touchdown.

At that point, it was 30-7 and everything was looking green and gold.

But that wasn’t the way it was going to end.

A year ago, JU had built a 28-10 lead at Drake only to see the Bulldogs rally for a 45-38 victory. The Bulldogs used that as motivation, scoring on the opening drive of the second half to make it 30-14.

On JU’s next possession, McGregor was picked off Seth Hedman – who returned it 31 yards to the JU 10-yard line. On the first play of the drive, Mike Piatkowski connected with Drew Blackmon on a 10-yard scoring pass and it was a whole new ball game with JU leading 30-21 and 8:29 left in the third quarter.

JU answered with a 17-play, 50-yard drive that took up 7:20, but only produced three points at Hostetler knocked home a 28-yard field goal to make it 33-21.

After a Drake 3-and-out, JU went right back to work, with Rudell Small scoring on a 6-yard run to push the Dolphins lead back to 18, 39-21, and just 12:39 left in regulation.

But the Bulldogs went right back down the field, going 68 yards on four plays, the last being a 10-yard touchdown pass from Piatkowski to Joey Orlando to make it 39-27.

The Bulldogs stopped JU near midfield and marched 80 yards on 10 plays with Nathan Paddock scoring on a third-and-goal play at the 1-yard line to cut the deficit to 39-34 with 4:18 left in the fourth quarter.

JU drove back into Drake territory, but the Bulldogs stood their ground and forced a turnover on down with 2:34 left in the game, getting the ball at their own 30-yard line.

After a pass interference penalty gave Drake a first down at its 45-yard line, McDougald stepped in front of Piatkowski’s pass intended for Blackmon to seal the win.

Elliott Finkley became the ninth receiver in JU history to record 1,000 receiving yards in his career, leading the Dolphins with four catches for 77 yards. Sumter had four catches for 73 yards and a touchdown while Josh Philpart was held to four catches for 58 yards.

Piatkowski finished the game 19-of-40 with two touchdowns and three interceptions, throwing for 296 yards, with Blackmon catching nine passes for 158 yards and one touchdown.

The Dolphins will return to work on Tuesday as they prepare to hit the road – this time at Valparaiso. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. (EST).