STORY BY AUSTIN CANNON
The Drake football team’s stout defense made up for the offense’s lack of production in Drake’s 17-9 win over Valparaiso Saturday.
To Drake head coach Rick Fox, it was a regular Drake/Valparaiso match-up.
“It’s usually a dreary, cold, rainy day, and it usually comes down to the wire,” Fox said.
It was similar to the previous games in another aspect: Drake winning. It was the Bulldogs’ 11th straight win over the Crusaders, behind a defense that only allowed 176 total yards for the sluggish Crusader offense.
“But then, defensively, we were lights-out,” Fox said. “Our defense was fantastic today, and that’s been the theme of the year.”
That lights-out defense ended up deciding the contest for Drake.
Leading 10-9 late in the fourth quarter, the Bulldog defense faced a Valparaiso second down at the Crusader 32. Cornerback Drew Orsmeth intercepted Scott Staal’s pass and returned it to the end zone. Drake led 17-9 with 51 seconds to go.
On the next possession, Brad Duwe intercepted another Staal pass to seal it for Drake.
“They were just fantastic today,” Fox said. “I think that’s the biggest impression I had, was just how well our defense played.”
That defense also kept the game in Drake’s reach after the Crusaders took an early 9-0 lead.
The Crusaders got their first six points after A.J. Bradley picked off Drake quarterback Andy Rice. The resulting 72-yard drive ended in a Ben Lehmen touchdown pass to Ryan Shea. However, defensive lineman Matt Acree blocked the PAT to keep the score at 6-0.
The interception was one of several first-half miscues for the Bulldogs. Running back Conley Wilkins had a fumble, and punter Cam Bohnert fumbled a snap and was tackled at the Drake 15. That led to the Valparaiso field goal.
There was rain and wind, which could’ve led to the turnovers, but Fox said his team still needs practice.
“I don’t know if that was the cause of the turnovers,” Fox said. “We’ve just got to keep working on that as we move forward.”
After starting quarterback Lehmen exited the game with an injury in the second quarter, the Crusader offense ground to a halt. Backup Stall only completed 7-of-20 passes for 52 yards with two interceptions.
Ben Tesson kicked a 40-yard field goal with less than a minute left in the first half to pull Drake within one possession, but the offense failed to get on the board in the third quarter.
“We didn’t play very well-executed football offensively,” Fox said.
However, after starting at its own 11, the Bulldog offense was able march 89 yards down the field and score its only touchdown of the day on a one-yard sneak by Rice early in the fourth quarter.
“Good seasons are when you don’t play well, you figure out ways to win,” Fox said. “In bad seasons, you don’t play well, you don’t figure out a way to win. And our guys figured out a way to win.”
The win pushed Drake over .500 to 4-3 and to 3-1 in the PFL. It’s also the first two-game win streak for the Bulldogs, as they head back to Des Moines for their final two home games of the season against Butler and Dayton.
“If you’re going to have a good year, you better be able to do that or you’re going to be, at best, .500, and so that was big for us,” Fox said. “It was a really important win to set us up for those two home games.”
The kickoff for the Butler game, is set for 1 p.m. Saturday at Drake Stadium.