Photo: Jeremy Leong
A dominant second half performance lifted Drake over conference-leading Butler on Saturday at Drake Stadium, improving the Bulldogs to 6-1 in Pioneer Football League play. Thanks to Saturday’s 45-20 victory, Drake needs only one more win to claim a share of the PFL title.
Drake hasn’t won back-to-back titles since 1931-32. With PFL powerhouse Jacksonville looming on Saturday, Drake faces another must-win. Though Jacksonville threatens Drake, excitement beat any anxiety after Saturday’s Butler rout.
“We’re really excited,” said head coach Chris Creighton. “We’re going to enjoy this one today and tonight. There hasn’t been back-to-back football championships here since 1931 and 1932, so it has been done before, but it has been a long time, and we made history going to Africa, and we want do something special again, so we’re excited about this game.”
Drake dealt Butler its first PFL loss of the 2012 campaign, dropping Butler to 7-1 in PFL play.
Drake’s offense sped down the field to open Saturday’s showdown as the Bulldogs closed within Butler’s 10-yard line. The Butler defense thwarted Drake’s touchdown hopes, though, sending freshman kicker Cam Bohnert onto the field on fourth down.
Bohnert’s 10-yard try turned into a fumble as the Bulldogs dashed to regain possession. Butler scooped up the football, though, to take possession at the 22-yard line at the 8:24 mark.
With 5:48 remaining in the initial stanza, Butler quarterback Matt Lancaster found wide receiver Derek O’Connor in the end zone to give Butler a 6-0 advantage. Jon Troeloar’s extra point attempt ricocheted off the right post.
Neither squad scored in the opening stanza’s remaining minutes.
The PFL foes traded momentum to open the second stanza. With 6:13 to go, the Bulldogs opened a 73-yard drive with a 12-yard pass from fifth-year senior quarterback Mike Piatkowski to senior wide receiver Nick Rosa. The two teamed up a play later with a 38-yard drive to reach Butler’s 23-yard marker.
Drake completed the 73-yard drive with a touchdown as Piatkowski connected with senior wide receiver Joey Orlando. Bohnert’s try sailed through the uprights to give Drake its first lead at 7-6 with 4:02 left in the opening stanza.
The Bulldogs used two key touchdowns to secure Saturday’s win. With Drake up 14-13, Piatkowski connected with sophomore wide receiver Grahm Butler on a 29-yard touchdown to take the 21-13 edge.
A possession later, Piatkowski connected with sophomore running back Gary Scott Jr. for a touchdown and a 28-13 lead.
Drake would go on to win 45-20 thanks to key defensive stops down the stretch.
Piatkowski added to his already stellar career on Saturday. He completed 29-of-40 en route to 366 passing yards with a career-high five touchdowns. Stats aside, Creighton praised Piatkowski’s calls both on the ground and in the air.
“I really think our quarterback, Mike Piatkowski, did a great job of calling the game, both the run and the pass,” Creighton said. “He mixed it up well. I think that was the key to the offense.”
Piatkowski credited Saturday’s win to Drake’s preparation.
“We just had a great game plan,” Piatkowski said. “Butler has a good defense. We knew that if we executed our game plan, we would be fine, and we started doing that, and things got rolling and we started scoring.”
The Bulldogs expect a versatile, experienced Jacksonville squad on Saturday. Though Jacksonville owns the hometown advantage, Drake will look to out-prepare the Dolphins, who are fourth in the PFL standings.
“It’s a whole different world going down there,” Rosa said. “We’ve got to make sure we’re hydrated. We’re going to be prepared. We’re going to be ready to go out there. We’ve just got to go out there and execute.”