A strong start and a feisty finish didn’t quite get it done for the Davidson football team Saturday afternoon at Richardson Field.
The Wildcats (1-3, 0-1) rolled up almost 500 yards total offense, but couldn’t keep up the momentum they built in a dominant first quarter, falling short against Morehead State 40-32 in the Pioneer Football League opener for both teams.
Down 40-25 with 3 1/2 minutes left to play, Davidson scored on a quick 77-yard drive engineered by quarterback J.P. Douglas, who completed 20 of 36 passes for 282 yards. He threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Cam Cheuvront to trim the deficit to eight points with two minutes to play.
But the Wildcats couldn’t recover an up-for-grabs onside kick attempt and the Eagles (2-2, 1-0) ran out the clock.
“We put ourselves in position to win the game,” Davidson coach Paul Nichols said. “And you have to take advantage of those opportunities. There were open wide receivers we needed to hit and tackles we should have made. But I’m proud of the guys’ effort.”
Davidson moved out to an 11-0 lead in the game’s first six minutes with the help of three big pass plays from starting quarterback J.P. Douglas to wide receiver William Morris.
The first, a 49-yard gain, set up a 25-yard field goal by Trevor Smith a minute and 44 seconds into the game. The other two, for 41 and 39 yards, took up most of a quick scoring drive on the Wildcats’ second possession. It ended in a 3-yard keeper by backup quarterback John Cook.
Morris finished with five catches for 163 yards.
“We need to get the ball in his hands 10 times a game,” Nichols said. “Five’s not enough.”
Morehead State, which finished the game with 549 yards total offense, pulled to within 11-7 on Rob Harden’s 4-yard touchdown run with 6:32 left in the quarter.
But Davidson answered with a 23-yard run by Douglas on the first play of the second quarter for their largest lead at 18-7.
The Eagles took a 21-18 lead to the break after a 13-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Austin Gahafer to Cyrus Strahm, and a 4-yard run by Brandon Bornhauser about a minute before halftime.
The Wildcats, who rolled up 238 yards offense in the first quarter, were held to 45 in the second.
Morehead State picked up field goals of 27 and 35 yards from Luke Boyd on their first two second half possessions to extend their lead to 27-18. They took that advantage to the fourth quarter after stopping a late Davidson drive to the Morehead State 30. Defensive back Braylyn Cook intercepted a Douglas pass into the end zone on fourth down.
Davidson closed the gap to 27-25 with John Cook’s second touchdown run of the game, from 39 yards out, with 13:34 left in the game.
But a 58-yard punt return by Justin Cornwall set up an 8-yard touchdown run by Gahafer with 7:49 left in the game for a 34-25 lead, and the Eagles added another score on a 5-yard run by Bornhauser before Davidson’s late rally.
“We just have to do a better job defensively and on special teams,” Nichols said.
Notes: The Wildcats travel to New Jersey to play Princeton at 6 p.m. Saturday, only the second football meeting ever between the two schools.