Photos: Michael Sage
After a grueling non-conference schedule, the Bulldogs needed a spirited performance against Creighton to get their season back on track. On Saturday night, they delivered just that.
Playing in front of a packed Cownie Soccer Complex, the Bulldogs (1-7-3, 0-0-1 MVC) opened their Missouri Valley Conference campaign with a hard-fought 0-0 tie against the No. 12 Bluejays.
Drake came into the game hobbling after playing a competitive non-conference schedule, mostly on the road, and having allowed 14 goals in its last four games.
“I would say we are the best 1-7-3 team I’ve ever seen,” said head coach Sean Holmes. “We played just a ridiculously difficult first ten games, had we played with that sort of tenacity and commitment, and spirit, we’d be in a better place right now. But that really sets the tone for the conference.”
The story of the match turned out to be the young back line for the Bulldogs. Drake started three freshmen on defense, along with a goalkeeper who’s in his first year as a starter and a left back starting for the first time at center back, and held Creighton scoreless for 110 minutes.
Freshman Austin Reutzel made his first start at center back and was joined by freshman Jon Choda and redshirt freshman Alec Bartlett to lead the Bulldogs to a scoreless draw.
“They’re one of the best teams in the conference at keeping the ball and I mean, their spacing and everything is just perfect. To sit in and defend like we did for however long it was; it was a good result,” said junior Addison Eck.
The Bulldogs showed no signs of a team still hung up on their lack of success in non-conference play, going toe-to-toe against a team that made the Final Four last season.
“You gotta try and take some points from conference opponents and this is a team that is still currently 12th in the country and obviously they’ll drop after the loss to Tulsa and tied us, but that’s a good team,” Holmes said.
Creighton started off the match with a lot of energy, testing redshirt junior goalkeeper Rich Gallagher with dangerous shots from outside the box on a couple of occasions. After containing Creighton’s initial surge in the first ten minutes, Drake settled in and muddled Creighton’s attempt to control the middle of the pitch.
The Bulldogs generated a few solid chances in the first half, but struggled to get depth on the flanks. Creighton once again took command of the game late in the first half, but could not breakthrough as both teams headed to the break tied at 0-0.
Creighton outshot Drake 11-5 in the first half.
The story remained similar for Drake in the second half, as the Bulldogs continued to successfully contain the Bluejays’ attacks and also generated a pair of dangerous chances. Redshirt sophomore Brian Grand’s strike from outside the box barely went wide left as the crowd gasped with excitement.
After a frantic stretch to close out the half, the match went into overtime. Creighton dominated the first period of extra time, while the Bulldogs came closer to scoring on the second period of extra time. Junior Bryan Jantsch and Grand combined on the right side of the field and came close to opening up the score.
Creighton outshot Drake 6-2 in overtime and 30-15 in the game. Gallagher recorded nine saves for the Bulldogs.
Holmes talked about the future for his young team. The same team that started on Saturday will be back next season, with the exception of fifth-year senior Michael Thaden.
“In terms of the big picture, I’m super, super happy. I think there were some guys that were sort of pretending to defend, but tonight guys fought,” Holmes said. “For guys to be able to do that at 18 (years old), in their first month of college, it’s really, really encouraging.”
The Bulldogs will continue their three-game homestand on Wednesday when they take on non-conference foe Western Illinois at 7 p.m. at the Cownie Soccer Complex.
They’ll hope Saturday night’s spirited performance carries over.
“We haven’t really had many home games, this is our third home game and not many night games either. So when you have an atmosphere like this you have to play up,” Eck said. “We’ve had a bad run of form lately and I think this is just what we need to pick up the season. Keep going in the right direction.”