BUIES CREEK — This has been a season of celebration for the Campbell football team. It just didn’t end with a celebration.
The Camels finished their 10th anniversary season on a down note Saturday. But even with the disappointment of a 45-10 beatdown at the hands of Drake at Barker-Lane Stadium, coach Mike Minter still found reason to smile as his team finished its Pioneer League association with a winning record for only the second time in program history.
“When we were really playing good football from the beginning of the season to the middle of the season, everybody was healthy,” said Minter, the former Carolina Panthers defensive back whose team finishes the season at 6-5 overall, 5-3 in conference play. “It’s tough, but what I like about this team is that they fought.
“We’ve really been thin for about six weeks now and to win those games we’ve won during those six weeks, that shows a lot of heart. But it’s also disappointing because we’ve got to live with this (loss) for the rest of the year.”
Saturday’s game was Campbell’s final one before moving up to FCS scholarship status next season as a member of the Big South Conference.
While it ended up becoming “an old-fashioned butt-whipping,” to use Minter’s words, the Camels actually had a chance to make things interesting with a pair of early defensive stops and two drives deep into Drake territory.
Neither yielded any points, however, when quarterback Daniel Smith was stopped a yard short on a fourth-and-3 play from the Bulldogs 29 and running back Darius Barnes was stuffed at the line on a fourth-and-one attempt from the 17.
While Campbell failed to convert on short-yardage situations, Drake (7-4, 5-2) took care of business with some long-range lightning. The Bulldogs took a 14-0 lead on a touchdown set up by a 37-yard completion, followed by a 68-yard scoring strike from Grant Kraemer to Cole Neary.
Barnes, who rushed for a career-high 96 yards on 24 carries, said “it’s definitely a different game” if Campbell been able to get into the end zone on those first half possessions.
“That gives our defense something to look forward to,” he said. “It gives us the momentum. It gives us drive for the next series going out.”
Instead, it was the opposition that got the boost.
After the Camels cut the margin to 14-3 at halftime on a 30-yard Colin Gary field goal, Drake responded by scoring points on its first five second half possessions to break the game open.
And again, they did it with big plays and quick strikes.
In all, the Bulldogs recorded eight plays of 30 yards or longer while running up a 547-327 total offense advantage.
“Coach always says you’ve got to win the big play battle … and unfortunately I didn’t make enough of them,” wide receiver Aaron Blockman said. “We had some injuries, some guys go down on the offensive line and there was some confusion up front. That’s where it all starts”
In addition to the offensive line attrition, which led to backup guard Ethan Pierson play center for the first time in his career, the Camels were also short on the defensive line and in the secondary.
That led to breakdowns Drake was only too happy to exploit.
Campbell’s only other score came on a short touchdown run by Smith in the final minute of the third period.
“When you have safeties playing corner and backups back there trying to control the defense, it made it very difficult,” Minter said. “We had about five defensive linemen that could play and playing against that type of football team you need about 15.
“And then our offensive line, it was banged up coming in and it showed. When you look at all that type of stuff, that’s why they dominated the trenches. That’s where they won the game, up front.”