In what will be the most anticipated game of the Pioneer Football League season, the San Diego Toreros will travel to Drake on Saturday to face the Bulldogs in a battle of the top two teams in the conference. Both teams were co-champions of the PFL last season.
San Diego (2-2, 1-0) is coming off a resounding victory over Valparaiso, while Drake (3-2, 2-0) comes off a 35-7 win over Campbell to give each team confidence as they prepare to clash at Drake Stadium.
For San Diego, last week was nothing more of a tune up game as they rode 37 first-half points to defeat Valparaiso 51-14. Led by redshirt junior quarterback Mason Mills, the Toreros look to prove that the coaches were right in picking them to win the conference this season (Drake was picked second).
For the season, Mills has 1,037 passing yards and eight touchdowns, including three last week. Running the ball has not been as kind to the Toreros, as leading rusher, junior Kenn James, picked up 77 percent of his team-leading 140 yards last week against an overmatched Valparaiso. The Toreros are likely to live and die through the air, especially with receivers such as junior Sam Hoekstra and sophomore Brandon White, who have combined 537 yards and 44 receptions in four games. If the Bulldogs can slow down those receivers while getting pressure on Mills, they will have a great chance at victory.
Defensively, San Diego doesn’t blow many assignments, but it also doesn’t make many big plays. The team has only six sacks and five interceptions so far this season. Drake will need to get to the second level to keep the defense at bay and work its way down the field.
For the Bulldogs, fifth-year senior quarterback Mike Piatkowski will look to pick apart the San Diego secondary, as he had done to every team he has faced so far this season to the tune of 1,179 yards and seven touchdowns. Another major advantage that he has is the balance he has found in his receivers. Five players have at least 10 receptions for the Bulldogs, and three with at least 198 yards receiving, led by senior Joey Orlando with 219.
Defensively, getting and maintaining pressure has been Drake’s strong suit all season. Senior Brandon Coleman and fifth-year seniors Anthony Gianaras and Tyler Moorehead have all had great starts to the season and are looking to build on that as they try to anchor the Bulldog defense. Also on the alert is the steadily improving secondary. After replacing three starters from last season, it appears that they have gelled as a unit with junior Derek Temple and sophomores John Bloss and Drew Ormseth joining the ranks. Senior Jake Underwood looks to keep creating turnovers and big plays.
Special teams also will be a battle to look out for, as San Diego boasts a returning senior in Ernie Collins as kicker and punter, and he has been a model of consistency, while Drake looks to replace Billy Janssen with mixed results so far. The kicking situation is still in progress as freshman Cam Bohnert and sophomore Spencer Lee battle for the kicking duties, and Bohnert and junior Jeremy Stein battle for punting duties. That could be a major storyline in this game as it develops.
Kickoff is at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday at Drake Stadium.