Drake faced a difficult defeat on Saturday against co-league leader Dayton, dropping a 31-25 decision. Dayton quarterback Steve Valentino tossed a 37-yard touchdown to Luke Bellman with one second left in the game to deliver a huge blow to Drake’s conference title hopes.
“I’m still in shock to be honest with you,” Drake Head Coach Chris Creighton said in a Drake athletics press release. “I’m really proud of our team, but our guys are hurting right now.”
Drake, now with a record of 6-4 on the season and 5-2 in the Pioneer Football League, trails Dayton and Jacksonville, who are tied with records of 9-1 overall and 7-0 in the PFL. A win would have given Drake a shot at the championship next week in the season finale against Butler.
In Drake’s second possession of the game, junior quarterback Mike Piatkowski’s pass was intercepted at Drake’s 30-yard line. Dayton took advantage of the turnover, opening the scoring with a field goal.
The momentum of the game quickly shifted on the Flyer’s next possession when fifth-year senior defensive end Dain Taylor blocked Dayton’s next field goal attempt. Following Taylor’s block, the Bulldogs used the momentum to fuel a successful drive near the end of the first quarter. After moving the ball 80 yards down the field, a 15-yard pass from Piatkowski to sophomore wide receiver Joey Orlando put the Bulldogs on top, 7-3.
Back and forth play continued into the second quarter. Dayton scored a touchdown on its first possession of the quarter, followed by a missed field goal by Drake on its next possession. Later, senior defensive back Matt Hancock returned an interception for a touchdown to give Drake the lead back. Dayton added another score to go up 17-14 at the half.
The Flyers opened the second half with a touchdown in their first possession, but the Drake defense responded. On Dayton’s next possession, Taylor sacked Valentino for a safety to make it 24-16.
Taylor had a career day, finishing with a career-high 12 tackles, including 3.5 quarterback sacks, in addition to the safety and blocked field goal.
Midway through the third quarter, Piatkowski left the game with an injury and was replaced by sophomore reserve quarterback Cody Seeger, who led Drake to a score on his first possession with a 57-yard pass to fifth-year senior Steve Platek, pulling the score to 24-22.
Action picked up once again with just over seven minutes left in the game. The Bulldogs took the lead on a drive that consisted of several carries by senior running back Tom Kostek and a crucial pass by Seeger on fourth down to move the chains. The Bulldogs’ long possession resulted in a field goal by senior Billy Janssen to give Drake a 25-24 lead with only 1:22 left in the game, which appeared to indicate a Bulldog victory.
“Cody (Seeger) kept the drive alive,” Creighton noted. “I thought the field goal would win the game right there for us. But we had just a little too much time left on the clock and Dayton made the plays.”
On Dayton’s next possession, the last of the game, Valentino successfully completed three passes for a total of 70 yards, the last of which won the game and kept Dayton undefeated in the PFL.
Photo: Carter Oswood