By Austin Cannon
After a season-opening victory, Drake now has a much tougher test for its second opponent of 2015.
The Bulldogs’ 44-30 victory over the D-II William Jewell Cardinals in the season opener was a welcome change after losing the first game in 2012 and ’13, but the Cardinals aren’t North Dakota.
UND won its opener 24-13 at Wyoming, the program’s first-ever victory over an FBS school. Is that intimidating?
“It’s really not,” quarterback Andy Rice said. “While they won a big game, we’re still looking forward to the opportunity.”
Wyoming couldn’t stop UND’s running game, giving up 276 yards on the ground. UND led 21-0 early in the fourth quarter, its defense holding the Cowboys to only 171 yards in the first three periods.
“They looked really good. They looked fast,” tight end Andrew Yarwood said. “They’re a physical defense.”
“They’re going to be nose-to-nose with you the whole game,” Rice said.
UND has allowed only an average of 6.9 points in its past 14 home openers at the Alerus Center. In all, UND hasn’t lost a home opener since the Reagan administration (1986). The only time Drake has played against UND was in Grand Forks in 2011. UND shut out the Bulldogs, 16-0.
When UND had the ball Saturday, it was the John Santiago show. The freshman running back put up 148 yards rushing and two touchdowns in his college debut. Santiago, who began fall camp at receiver, opened the scoring with a 52-yard run in the first quarter.
“He’s shifty, but he’s nothing we can’t handle,” defensive end Mack Marrin said. “We just have to make sure we tackle.”
“The guys who make the hits need to hold on until other guys get there,” coach Rick Fox said.
Drake limited Jewell to 3.5 yards per carry Saturday and will try to contain Santiago, who is capable of big plays. Along with the long touchdown, Santiago had a 72-yard touchdown called back after a penalty. He added a 30-yard carry late in the third quarter. Fox said his defense will have to keep Santiago contained, keeping him off the edge.
There will be a semi-familiar face playing linebacker for UND. Senior linebacker Will Ratelle, who led UND with seven tackles against Wyoming, is the brother of former Bulldog defensive back Mike Ratelle. The younger Ratelle made 106 tackles in 2014 and was named an All-Big Sky honorable mention.
“He’s not only a talented player, but he’s their leader,” Fox said. “He’s the heart and soul of their defense.”
Against William Jewell, Rice found nine different receivers for 286 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Conley Wilkins ran for 110 yards and three touchdowns, averaging five yards per carry.
Similar production will most likely be needed from the Drake offense against UND if the Bulldogs hope to come away with a win.
Safety Bryan Pisklo grabbed a vital interception in the end zone the first quarter. Drake’s two picks both led to touchdown drives, the 14-point difference in the final score.
The Bulldogs will be without senior left guard Aaron Melton. He’s done for the season after surgery on his right ankle. He was injured on Drake’s first play from scrimmage when Wilkins was brought down behind him.
The domed Alerus Center will be raucous, welcoming home its confident team.
“It’s definitely going to be a loud, crazy environment,” Yarwood said. “A little different than what we’re used to here. It should be fun.”