Story by Mike Wendlandt
Photo by Cameron Johnson
After three games to get ready, the Pioneer Football League season finally begins, and defending champion Drake University looks for the three-peat as it travels to Macon, Ga., to welcome Mercer to the PFL.
The Bulldogs have started out 1-2 so far, falling to cross-town rival Grand View and a Top-10 program in Northern Iowa before beating one of the top Division II teams in the nation in Indianapolis last weekend.
Mercer comes in undefeated at 3-0, outscoring its opponents 144-37 on the season.
Here’s what Drake has to do on all three phases of the ball to win this week.
Offensively, Drake looks to maintain the balance it developed over the first three games, with junior running back Gary Scott Jr. leading the team on the ground averaging 4.7 yards per carry, while junior Andy Rice looks to continue his growth into a starting college quarterback.
Rice has been relatively mistake free this season and has been very solid.
He has a bevy of targets in seniors Nick Rosa and Kevin Marshall as well as young guys Michael Hudson and Graham Butler.
Defensively, Drake needs to maintain consistency. The Bulldogs alternated this season so far between a lockdown, suffocating defense with being inconsistent and being gashed in the passing game. The veteran leadership has been vital so far, as seniors Brandon Coleman, Michael Ratelle, Seth Hedman and junior John Huginin have been rocks for the team so far. If they can maintain their consistency and confident tackling, the Bulldogs have the makings of a nationally ranked defense.
Finally, on special teams, Drake just needs to maintain the status quo. The Bulldogs have a solid kicker in freshman Ben Tesson and a good punter grouping in sophomores Jeremy Stein and Cam Bohnert, while Michael Ratelle continues to be one of the best returners in the conference.
All in all, Mercer looks to be a hungry team with a shot, but Drake’s experience should be able to set the tone as they start their title defense. You can listen to the game on KRNY 1350 AM. Kickoff is at noon.