The Drake football team finally got its swagger back.
In a close, back-and-forth matchup, Drake lost to Butler 17-20 in the Pioneer Football League championship.
Drake fans filled the stands, comparable in size to their Butler counterparts on a beautiful fall day in Indianapolis, Ind.
After recovering two fumbles within the first quarter of play, Drake only managed one first-half field goal. Drake went on the board first with a Brandon Wubs field goal at the 8:37 mark of the first quarter. Two receptions by senior tight end Frank Pucher — both bringing about first downs — defined the drive.
Moving into the second quarter, up by three, the two teams went back and forth until the game got interesting.
With nine minutes remaining in the half, Drake sophomore quarterback Mike Piatkowski ran the ball to the Butler 37-yard line. Attempting a fourth-down conversion, Piatkowski threw an interception to Nick Caldicott, who then ran it in for a touchdown.
However, in a bizarre chain of events, referees went back and forth on personal foul calls. After conferring with each other and both coaches, both Drake and Butler received personal foul penalties. And since they both occurred before Caldicott crossed the goal line, the touchdown didn’t count and Butler took over on its own 43-yard line. Tempers flared in the stands and on the field.
Butler couldn’t convert on the next drive, but kicked a field goal with just over a minute remaining in the half. At the half, the teams were tied at three. Piatkowski threw 8-for-15, gaining 64 yards and one interception. Butler quarterback Andrew Huck threw for 99 yards, going 9-for-15.
If fans wanted time to relax and catch their breath, they would be disappointed, as the second half brought even more intense game action and back-and-forth play.
With 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter, senior linebacker Ben Morrison recovered yet another Butler fumble, bringing Drake to the Butler 7-yard-line. Patrick Cashmore drove the ball in for the quick touchdown.
Butler, however, would not rest as the team came back two minutes later after Butler’s Jordan Koopman ran 18 yards for the tying touchdown.
Butler went on the board next with a 32-yard pass to Zach Watkins just over two minutes into the fourth quarter. Drake would score two minutes later off a 53-yard pass from Piatkowski to first-year Joey Orlando to tie the game at 17-apiece.
Drake’s running game was not working Saturday afternoon, as the Bulldogs were stopped time after time. With four minutes remaining in the game, Piatkowski took it into his own hands and gained 8 yards on the run, only to get annihilated on a tackle. Drake then punted the ball with just under three minutes remaining in the game.
Minutes later, Cornerback Michael Lahart intercepted a Butler pass on the 41-yard line with 2:10 remaining in the game. But Butler responded two plays later with another interception — Piatkowski’s third interception of the day with 37 seconds left in the game.
After gaining ground, Huck spiked the ball with 26 seconds remaining. Third down and on Drake’s 38-yard line, Drake was called off-sides, giving Butler more room to score. Butler wide receiver Zach Wilkins then caught a 22-yard reception at Drake’s 14-yard line. With four seconds left, Butler took a timeout. With the entire season riding on this one play, Butler kicker David Lang’s 27-yard field goal attempt was good, and as the clock wound down to one second — Butler took the game and the PFL title.
“It just comes down in the end to turnovers and making plays,” Head Coach Chris Creighton said. “That game could have gone either way, but unfortunately, it went Butler’s way. It was not lack of effort, nor was it lack of will. I’m real proud that the guys put themselves in this position to play for the championship.”
This game marked the conclusion of 17 Drake athletes’ football careers. Creighton said he was proud of them, as they have shown tremendous willpower over the last four years and throughout coaching changes.
“They endured and persevered going through tough transition,” he said. “I respect them so much for how they kept the program together.”
Butler will share the title with Dayton, as the team beat Marist 26-16 Saturday. This was the first time Butler claimed the PFL championship since 1994.
Drake went into the game with a four-game PFL road winning streak and a 6-1 league record. Piatkowski will return as quarterback next season. Creighton has confidence in his young QB.
“Mike, I tell ya, he’s really had a fantastic year,” Creighton said. “He’s good. He’s so poised, he’s bright, he’s football-savvy, he throws a beautiful ball and he’s got a real bright future.”
Piatkowski said he was disappointed with the loss, saying his offensive line gave him plenty of time and the defense was strong — both efforts deserving a win. He said that he is not focused on next season right now, he just wants to reflect on the game at hand and the players that are leaving Drake.
“We’re always confident,” he said. “We’re just going to dwell on this game for a little bit. The seniors are leaving, so it’s about them right now.”
Creighton said the team’s theme this season was “Swagger back.” He said his players have accomplished that moniker. Senior
Mason Bucklin agrees.
“The past couple of years have been tough,” Bucklin said. “I think, overall, after we get over this loss, we’ll be happy with our season.”