BY JD PELEGRINO
At the conclusion of the 2017 football season, the Drake Bulldogs finished with yet another winning season.
This is the Bulldogs’ second straight season above .500 and the third in the last four years under Coach Rick Fox. Fox stepped into the role as head coach in 2014.
Senior quarterback Grant Kraemer had himself an impressive senior campaign, improving in almost all aspects of his game including passing yards, touchdowns, interceptions, rushing touchdowns and completion percentage.
Despite missing a little more than one game, Kraemer completed 62.3 percent of his passes this season for 2,616 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Last season, Kraemer’s completion percentage was 57.2 percent while throwing for 213 yards less at 2,403 but with 23 touchdowns.
The QB rushed for two touchdowns this year, twice as much as last year, and threw one less interception this year at 10.
Kraemer’s four top targets this season consisted of junior receivers Steven Doran and Devin Cates, sophomore wide receiver Mitch McFarlane and senior tight end Connor Ostrander.
Doran and McFarlane led the team in receiving yards with 790 and 523 yards respectively.
McFarlane missed the final four games of the season due to a knee injury, but this did not stop Doran from a productive season, pulling in 39 receptions and eight touchdowns (more than all receivers in both categories).
“Something for me to improve is that a lot of times when we were in the red zone, we would target him more than anyone else,” McFarlane said. “I think if I could step up in the red zone a little bit more next year to give us a dual threat, that is definitely something I could work on.”
The final game of each season is non-comparable to any other game throughout the year, as it involves potentially losing seniors and fifth-years in a sometimes emotional game while still playing the game itself.
One benefit for the Bulldogs is their youth. Players such as Doran, McFarlane, Kraemer and offensive lineman Dustin Anthony expressed enthusiasm moving into next season with all of the first-years and sophomores on board and ready to contribute to the team’s success.
Throughout the course of the season, the Dogs handed the rock off to more than five running backs.
The two feature RBs this season were seniors Brock Reichardt and Tyler Updegraff.
Both RBs had over 100 carries, Reichardt leading the two with 121 rushes to Updegraff’s 101.
Reichardt ran for 504 yards this season and five touchdowns and Updegraff kept pace with 347 yards rushing and four touchdowns.
Both RBs ended the season with five touchdowns, due to one Updegraff receiving touchdown against San Diego.
Other notable running backs this season include junior Drew Lauer and sophomore Taylor Murph, who both had over 100 yards on the season with one touchdown each.
“On both sides of the ball, I think we bring a lot of talent back next year and just having a little bit more experience is gonna end up helping us quite a bit,” McFarlane said.
The Bulldogs embrace their youth and plan to use it to their advantage in coming seasons.
Much of the youth on the team has already seen reps throughout the season, which is beneficial moving into next season.
The Bulldog defense outscored opponents in multiple categories throughout the season as well. Opposing defenses sacked the Drake QBs a total of 22 times, but not as many as the 27 inflicted on other QBs, courtesy of the Bulldog defense.
The Bulldog secondary led the team in interceptions. The defense intercepted opposing quarterbacks 12 times this season, the same amount as Drake QBs were intercepted.
Among other statistics, Drake tackled opposing players for 281 yards of loss, more than the 247 yards they lost to negative plays.
Kicker Danny Donley made 14 of 19 field goal attempts this season with a career and season-long 48-yard attempt. The 48-yard attempt by Donley was the second longest field goal made in the PFL this season.
Donley won PFL honors twice this season, the final one being in the Jacksonville game to end the season, when he made the career-long field goal. Donley also kicked 100 percent on PAT attempts this season, 33 of 33 successful kicks.
“In my opinion, we should win the PFL next year,” McFarlane said. “I think with everyone we bring back and just another year under our belts, I would be disappointed if we did anything less than that.”
Expectations are high for the Bulldogs next year, for fans and for the players.
If the Dogs can finish 7-4 after losing their star tight end to the National Football League and after finishing 7-4 with him the year before, who is to say next season can’t be their best season in the Fox era?