Photo: File photo
The Drake football team has another accolade to add to its rich history and tradition: winners of the first-ever American football game on the continent of Africa.
While Drake students wrapped up the spring semester in May, the Bulldog football squad travelled to Arusha, Tanzania, to take on the CONADEIP All-Stars in the inaugural Global Kilimanjaro Bowl.
The Bulldogs triumphed 17-7 against some of Mexico’s top college players thanks to a fourth quarter comeback led by freshman third-string quarterback Nick Ens. Ens connected with junior Joey Orlando for an 11-yard touchdown strike to give Drake the lead for good, and senior Matt Buckley sealed the victory with an interception with 2:03 remaining.
“The whole team felt like it was swinging in the wrong direction, and we weren’t getting things right and a play needed to be made,” Orlando said in a Drake athletics press release following the game. “We ran that same play earlier when we were down there in the first quarter, and I didn’t run it right so I knew it was my chance when that play was called. I did things a little differently and it worked out for us.”
Drake’s top two quarterbacks, senior Mike Piatkowski and junior Tyler Castro, were injured earlier in the game, leaving the door open for Ens.
“I didn’t expect to play that much, really the whole of the second half, but I enjoyed it,” Ens said. “I think the drive where we scored was big for us. We had great protection up front, and the running game had allowed us to pass, so it was a great team effort.”
All three of the game’s touchdowns were scored in the final period. The CONADEIP squad was led by running back Jose Reyes, who gained 124 yards on the ground and scored the team’s only touchdown.
A crowd of 11,781 attended the Sheik Amri Abedi Memorial Stadium for the historic game. Both teams also participated in service projects and youth clinics during the two-week trip, which concluded with a five-day climb to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Now the Bulldogs turn their focus to the upcoming season. For the past two years, Drake has been on the verge of taking the next step to the top of the Pioneer Football League. The team finished third the past two seasons. According to this year’s PFL Coaches’ Poll, the Bulldogs are expected to finish in the same spot.
Defending PFL co-champions Jacksonville and Dayton were picked to finish first and second, respectively. The Bulldogs’ first contest is at North Dakota on Sept. 1. The team’s first game at Drake Stadium is against Grand View on Sept. 10.
The team closes the season with two home matches against Jacksonville and Dayton on Nov. 5 and 12, respectively.
Chris Creighton, who is entering his fourth season as Drake’s head coach, has helped turn the Bulldogs into a defensive powerhouse, but he hopes the offense can take Drake to a championship level this season.
“We’re going to have a lot of good balance,” Creighton said in a press conference at Drake football media day. “I don’t believe that our defense is going to be any less dominant. I just believe that our offense has gotten better, so we’re really excited about how our offense is going to make more of a contribution to this season. We really believe that it is going to take us over the edge.”