Photo courtesy of Drake Athletics
For the second consecutive season, the Bulldogs (8-3, 7-1 PFL) emerged as Pioneer League Football co-champions — the first time in 81 years that Drake has won back-to-back titles, as it held on to defeat Jacksonville (7-4, 5-3 PFL) on the road 32-29.
With the win, Drake claimed a share of the PFL title along with Butler (8-3, 7-1 PFL). The PFL does not do tiebreakers because teams do not play everyone in the conference. Drake defeated Butler 45-20 last week.
Trailing 22-17 with 9:53 left in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs went on a pair of touchdown drives to take a 32-22 lead.
A Keith Dawson touchdown for Jacksonville cut the deficit to 32-29. After a three-and-out by the Bulldogs, the Dolphins got the ball back with 2:04 left to play.
However, the Bulldog defense came up big, forcing three straight incomplete passes in the final drive and ending the Dolphins’ comeback attempt.
Drake earned its first win in Jacksonville since 2006 and first win in Jacksonville under head coach Chris Creighton.
“It was a great day. It was not an easy day, for sure. A very formidable opponent, Jacksonville, came out and never gave up and went ahead for anybody who watched it. It was not easy, but I don’t think anything was going to stop our guys,” Creighton said in a Drake athletics press release. “The theme was ‘We will,’ and Tyler Moorehead with his senior share this morning just set the tone for ‘Nothing is going to stop us from getting it done today,’ and I think that’s what happened in the end. Our guys just said, ‘We’re doing this,’ and they did, and it was a lot of fun.”
Leading the way were fifth-year senior Mike Piatkowski and senior Kevin Marshall. Piatkowski, playing in his final game in Drake blue, completed 25-of-34 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns. Marshall finished with 11 receptions, 110 receiving yards and a touchdown.
Senior Joey Orlando contributed with four receptions for 61 yards and a touchdown.
Junior Travis Merritt recorded eight tackles and two sacks for the Drake defense. The Bulldogs recorded three sacks and only allowed Jacksonville to convert on 1-of-12 third-down opportunities.
Drake jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter thanks to a 2-yard run by Scott, and a touchdown pass to Marshall following a Jacksonville fumble.
Early in the second quarter, the Bulldogs ran a fake punt and handed the ball to senior Jake Underwood for a 44-yard gain on fourth-and-seven. The drive led to a field goal by freshman Cam Bohnert to give Drake a 17-0 lead.
The Dolphins sacked Piatkowski in the end zone for a safety and hit a field goal to pull within 17-5 at the break.
The second half started off poorly for the Bulldog offense, as Piatkowski was intercepted by Andre Addison and returned 50 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to 17-12. Later on, Jacksonville took the lead on a 32-yard pass to give it a 19-17 lead.
After a Jacksonville field goal gave it a 22-17 lead, Drake responded with touchdowns from sophomore Gary Scott Jr. and Orlando. The second touchdown was setup after a 36-yard punt return by senior Mike Ratelle placed the Bulldogs on the Dolphins’ eight-yard line.
“Resilience is a good word. I just think that the determination and the will even though when we weren’t feeling it, weren’t feeling good and whatnot. It was just so strong, that the buildup from the entire year was going to overcome some sort of, you know, lapse or momentary lapse in execution or seemingly intensity,” Creighton said. “As the clock ticked down, you’re looking at the scoreboard, I think those guys just made themselves do what they did.”
Having won two straight PFL titles, the Bulldogs will have new motivation next season: an automatic bid to the Football Championship Series (FCS) playoffs.
“A lot of big plays were made. I mean, the defense and special teams scored the first 17 points of the game. There’s no question, with the field position that they gave us. It was a team effort today. I’m just so proud of those guys,” Creighton said. “Going back-to-back is one of the hardest things you can do in sports because the motivation may not be natural. You’ve got to conjure it up. I’m just so proud of these guys for getting it done.”