Photo: Luke Nankivell
The Drake Bulldogs go into their final home game of the season with the conference title on the line as they prepare to face the Butler Bulldogs this Saturday at 1 p.m. at Drake Stadium.
Butler, who has been a suprising conference powerhouse this season, has gone undefeated in Pioneer League Football play this season. It has dominated all opponents, except for last week’s game, when it needed a fourth quarter comeback to beat Jacksonville 19-16. Drake, on the other hand, stumbled against Dayton and was handed its first defeat in conference play, 28-13.
However, if the Bulldogs win their final two games of the season they will still claim a share of the PFL title, making Saturday’s match monumental.
For Drake, the offense seeks to rebound after its worst performance of the season. In his final game at Drake Stadium, fifth-year senior quarterback Mike Piatkowski looks to go out with style. His conference-leading 2,630 yards should increase some more as he approaches the end of his career as Drake’s all-time leading passer. Sophomore running back Gary Scott Jr. is looking for a bounce-back as well, as he only averaged 2.8 yards per carry last week, a far cry from his 4.1 average on the season.
The Bulldogs will hope their veteran receiving corps can make a difference in the game. With seniors Nick Rosa, Joey Orlando and Kevin Marshall all having played important roles in last season’s title run, they should be able to keep their focus and find weaknesses in Butler’s defense.
Butler, offensively, is one of the most explosive teams in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) so far this season, with the third-leading passer and the number one rusher in the conference at their disposal. Redshirt junior Matt Lancaster has simply been outstanding as Butler’s signal-caller, throwing for 2,460 yards with 19 touchdowns and only three interceptions on the season. He’s also the team’s second-leading rusher with 448 yards. Junior running back Trae Heeter is one of the frontrunners for PFL Player of the Year, having already run for 1,098 yards and averaging 6.6 yards per carry. He leads the conference by almost 300 yards on the ground.
Receiving, Butler has three main weapons, but none is more dangerous than redshirt junior Brendan Shannon, who has 54 catches for 738 yards and seven touchdowns. Redshirt sophomores J.T. Mesch and Derek O’Connor both have more than 40 receptions.
Defensively, the key for Drake will be its front seven. They will look to be swarming the line of scrimmage, stopping Heeter from breaking off big runs and getting pressure on Lancaster. If they can do that, the Butler offense will struggle, allowing the Drake offense to get on the field. Drake so far has the second-ranked scoring defense in the conference and will look to add to that with a suffocating performance Saturday.
Head coach Chris Creighton and the Bulldogs are in for a tough test but are up for the challenge in this must-win game.
Kickoff is set for Saturday at 1 p.m. after a ceremony honoring this year’s seniors playing for their last time at Drake Stadium.