Coming off a 9-2 season that saw the Bulldogs claim a share of the Pioneer Football League (PFL) title, Drake will have plenty of motivation heading into its season opener against Grand View (1-0).
For starters, the Bulldogs want to prove last season was no fluke and after being picked to finish second in the PFL behind San Diego (the Bulldogs shared the league title with the Toreros last season), Drake will have a chip on its shoulder.
“I believe our guys want to do it again and do it better,” said head coach Chris Creighton.
The Bulldogs welcome back seven returning starters on offense and six on defense. Fifth-year senior Mike Piatkowski will be headlining the air attack for Drake once again and will look to break the school’s all-time passing yards record. Piatkowski currently sits at 6,927 passing yards, 942 yards short of breaking the record.
While the offensive line remains mostly intact, the Bulldogs will have to fill the void of wide receiver Drew Blackmon and running back Patrick Cashmore. Drake will need big contributions from senior running back Trey Morse and senior wide receiver Joey Orlando.
On defense, Drake should be able to pressure the quarterback. The Bulldogs return fifth-year senior linebacker Tyler Moorehead and senior defensive end Brandon Coleman. The duo combined for 129 tackles and 22.5 sacks. However, the Bulldogs will sorely miss cornerback Michael Lahart anchoring the secondary.
That being said, the Bulldogs should still have enough firepower and experience to make another run at the PFL title. Drake shouldn’t get ahead of itself, though. Grand View came close to stunning the Bulldogs at home last season.
The last time these two sides met, Piatkowski found former Bulldog Nathan Paddock for a 10-yard touchdown throw to tie the game up at 21-21 with eight seconds left to force overtime. The Bulldogs went on to win 28-21 in what became the first memorable moment of a memorable season for Drake.
“They’re well coached. Last year was the first year they had seniors. Anytime you have upperclassmen you are going to get better,” Creighton said. “We expect for them to continue to get better.”
This will be the third time that Grand View pays a visit to Drake Stadium. In 2009, the Vikings were shut down 22-0 in what was just their second season as a football program.
Grand View defeated Graceland 26-6 in their season opener last weekend. Currently, the Vikings are ranked 15th in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
It’s no secret the Vikings have come a long way since their inception in 2008. After going 2-8 in their debut season, the Vikings finished 8-4 last year, claiming their first Mid-States Midwest League title and earning their first ever NAIA Football Championship Series berth.
While the NAIA might not be as competitive as Division 1-AA football, the Vikings proved they can hang with the Bulldogs last season.
Starting off the year on the right track will be pivotal for the Bulldogs, especially after the NCAA announced last week that, beginning in 2013, the PFL will now receive an automatic bid to participate in the Division I Football Championship. In other words, the PFL champion is now guaranteed a spot in the postseason for the first time ever.
“It’s huge. It’s absolutely a huge deal. It’s long overdue,” Creighton said. “Winning the PFL championship is huge. It becomes a lot bigger when you attach a national postseason berth.”
The quest to repeat as PFL champions begins tonight.