By Austin Cannon
The Globetrotters had the Generals, Notre Dame had Navy and, for the moment, Drake has Valparaiso.
Drake has dominated the Valparaiso Crusaders. The Bulldogs hold a 19-3 advantage in the all-time series. The Crusaders haven’t beaten the Bulldogs since an overtime victory in 2003, losing 11 straight times.
Valpo has finished ninth in the Pioneer Football League the last two seasons, but Dave Cecchini arrived as head coach last year and the Crusaders won their most games since 2007. They played Drake close last year, but the Bulldogs got a late interception return for a touchdown from Drew Ormseth to win, 17-9.
So the Crusaders aren’t to be easily dismissed.
“I think Valpo plays us really well every year, so if we overlook them, they’re going to take advantage of that,” tight end Eric Saubert said.
And then there’s the motivation factor, as told by receiver Michael Hudson.
“There’s going to be no issue with us getting revved up with what happened last week.”
What happened last week was Drake running into the buzz saw better known as the Campbell defensive line. Drake quarterback Andy Rice was sacked nine times and the offense moved a season-low 154 yards. The only bright spots in the 24-14 loss were Hudson’s two touchdown catches in his return from injury. Drake was previously unbeaten against the Camels in five games.
“That left a really, really bad taste in our mouth,” head coach Rick Fox said.
While Drake (2-3) struggled in North Carolina, Valpo was the visiting team leave the Tar Heel State with a victory, beating Davidson, 42-35.
“It’s tough to win on the road in the PFL, and they went out to North Carolina and won on the road, and so they’re a very capable team in all fronts,” Fox said.
Quarterback Ryan Clarke threw five touchdowns and was named the PFL offensive player of the week. Clarke found freshman Griffin Norberg for the game-winning touchdown with 1:55 to go in the fourth quarter.
While the defense will have to defend Clarke, the offense will attempt a return to form against a fluid Valpo defense.
“They run a lot of different stuff,” Fox said. “Every different defensive front that we’ll see this year, we’ll see in this game on Saturday.”
Facing a superb defense and a gusting wind, Rice only threw for 114 yards in his return from injury. Saubert, the team’s leader in receptions, said Rice and the receivers are trying to regain their rhythm.
“I think last week was more mental than anything,” he said. “I mean, we’ve got the players to do it, so just getting that timing down and getting that rhythm back is the most important.”
Conley Wilkins, Drake’s leading rusher, didn’t play because of injury and could return Saturday. He was sorely missed against Campbell; Drake ran for only 40 yards on 39 rushing attempts.
“We’re hopeful to have him back,” Fox said.
The Bulldogs will no doubt be happy to be back within the friendly confines of Drake Stadium, where they undefeated in two games this season. On the road? 0-3.
“We’re excited to get back on the field this Saturday and play Drake football,” Fox said.