No. 1 Drake defense comes up with 4 interceptions and 1 touchdown in the win
BY JD PELEGRINO
The Drake Bulldogs are now riding a two-game win streak, following the win Saturday at Valparaiso, 42-25. Heading into the game, Drake was the heavy favorites according to ESPN, and looking at the stats, both teams’ records, and purely on a football basis, should have won. Drake beat Valparaiso in the contest in nearly every category: points for, yards rushing, yards-per-rush, yards-per-pass, takeaways, time of possession, and more. Valparaiso went into the week ranking second to last in the Pioneer Football League, whereas Drake ranked second.
Bulldogs quarterback Grant Kraemer was 21-of-34 passing for 240 yards and four touchdowns. Kraemer did not turn the ball over once during the contest; this is his second game this season with 0 turnovers, with the first dating back to Oct. 6 against Butler at home.
Kraemer shared the wealth, as usual, spreading the ball out to most of his receivers. Wide receivers Steven Doran and Mitch McFarlane each caught five receptions and a touchdown. Doran led the Bulldogs in yards receiving with 68 but was almost caught by McFarlane’s 60 yards. The tight end Zach DeLeon contributed the other two touchdowns tossed by Kraemer while managing 50 yards of his own on three receptions. Receiver Devin Cates had four catches for 44 yards, Shane Feller caught two balls for 11 yards, and running back Isaiah Skinner caught two Kraemer passes for 7 yards.
The run game for the second straight game, overshadowed the opposing team’s run game, and ultimately proved chaotic for the opposing defense. Senior RB Drew Lauer had himself another career day on Saturday, as he rushed for over 100 yards for the second straight game. This week, Lauer saw 31 carries (season high) and ran for 116 yards (second highest of the season to last week’s 136 yards). In the last two weeks, Lauer has managed three touchdowns rushing, but zero in the previous five. He now has four total offensive touchdowns on the year.
Aside from Lauer’s momentum-shifting offensive play, the defense has continued to improve as the season has advanced. Throughout the course of Saturday’s game, the Bulldog defense swooped in on 4 Valparaiso passes, intercepting them, giving the ball to Kraemer and the offense.
Looking forward to San Diego next week, the Bulldogs will need to play with the similar energy as they did against Valparaiso to beat the top-ranked team in the PFL.
“We’re the top defense so we have to put up with [San Diego] and prove to ourselves, but also prove to the rest of the conference that we are the best team and we are the top defense,” junior safety Will Warner said. “We have to come out and we have to just throw them down and keep them from scoring, and let our offense do what they can do.”
Drake is second in the PFL in interceptions, but leads the conference in interception return-yards (198 yards). Drake has the first-ranked defense in the PFL and leads in many of the major categories including: scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense, opponent third-down conversion, and opponent fourth-down conversion. In categories where Drake does not rank first, they predominantly rank in the top-3.
“We’ve got some guys on the D-Line who are just animals,” Warner said. “Our linebackers are very experienced and very skilled, very good at covering passes, covering run, they really do it all… We have three seniors [in the backfield], they are all really knowledgeable and wise in what we’re doing, they know how to play the game so well.”
The Bulldogs put this defensive showing on full display against Valparaiso. Aside from housing the best defense in the PFL statistically, Drake also is home to the conference leader in passes defended and interceptions, safety Will Warner. Warner leads the PFL in interceptions with 5 for 161 yards and one touchdown, despite playing in two less games than the Davidson defender behind him with 4 interceptions.
Warner also leads the league in passes defended with an average of 1.29/game. Drake defensemen Sean Lynch and Will Warner are the only two defenders in the PFL with interceptions returned for touchdowns with one each.
The Drake Bulldogs improve to 5-3 (4-1) with the win at Valparaiso. This week will be a battle of the PFL’s top defense in Drake vs. top offense in San Diego (6-2, 5-0). San Diego leads the conference in points for, while playing within conference. This week proves to be an interesting matchup as Drake has only allowed 20 points-per-game (league-low) through seven games. The Bulldogs will host San Diego this Saturday, Nov. 3 at 1 p.m.
“We have to keep doing what we’re doing on defense,” Warner said. “Our offense is going to be able to put up 40 [points].”
The winner of Saturday’s game will most likely be the conference champion by the end of the season. “Having lost a game in our conference, now if we lose again, our conference championship hopes are over,” Warner said.