by JD PELEGRINO
Saturday kicked off the 2019 football season for the Drake Bulldogs. Head Coach Todd Stepsis, the Bulldogs former Defensive Coordinator, began his inaugural year in the role traveling with his team to North Dakota to open the season against the North Dakota Fighting Hawks.
Last season the Bulldogs went 7-4 overall with a 6-3 conference record in the Pioneer Football League (PFL). This year Scott Stepsis stepped in as head coach after Rick Fox resigned after six seasons in the role. More fresh faces come to the football team in the form of a new quarterback. Former QB Grant Kraemer played his final season with Drake last season and now plays in the Canadian Football League.
Stepsis was prepared to make senior Alex Bray the new starting QB but with Bray’s 6’3”, 205 pound-frame he was converted over to wide receiver. A decision made when another quarterback came into the program. True freshman from Tulsa, Oklahoma Ian Corwin took over the starting role at QB for the Bulldogs.
Game one of the 2019-2020 season began Saturday, August 31 with the Bulldogs receiving the opening kickoff. Fifth-year running back Drew Lauer caught the kick at the 5-yard line and returned it 25 yards to the Bulldogs’ 30-yard line. Corwin and Co. stepped out onto the field for the first time ready to make their mark. Lauer took the first two snaps for 3 and 5 yards. A false start backed the ball up and made it hard to generate momentum early, sending senior punter Ross Kennedy out for his first punt of the season.
The Fighting Hawks took possession at their own 32-yard line and moved the ball at will against the PFL’s No. 1 defense back in 2018. Fighting Hawks QB Nate Ketteringham completed 4-of-5 passes for 29 yards with two runs of his own. Redshirt sophomore Brady Leach kicked a 37-yard field goal for his first of the season. North Dakota took the lead over the Bulldogs 3-0.
Drake’s following offensive drive didn’t amount to any more success than on their first outing. Corwin was sacked to start the drive for an 8-yard loss and threw two incomplete passes for a three-and-out. Kennedy sent the ball back to Fighting Hawks.
Ketteringham went 53 yards in five plays guiding the offense, adding North Dakota’s first touchdown of the game to put the Fighting Hawks up 10-0 over the Bulldogs. Senior wide receiver Noah Wanzek caught the pass.
In the second quarter around the 11-minute mark the Bulldogs received a punt and began their drive at their own 20-yard line. A loss of 10 yards on the first play put Drake on their own 10 with a second-and-20 situation. Lauer ran the ball for one yard on second down only for to lose 2 yards on third down. Facing fourth-and-21 on their own 9-yard line Drake had to punt. Kennedy was in the Bulldogs’ end zone awaiting the snap, but the snap went over his head resulting in a North Dakota safety.
Fifth-year wide receiver Steven Doran said punting from a team’s own goal line is the toughest position to be in, in football.
“Coach Step always preaches ‘Don’t lose to Drake’ and I think that whole sequence of events illustrates why we were unsuccessful,” Doran said. “We had too many self-induced errors, in all aspects.”
The Drake defense forced three-straight punts to conclude the first half but found themselves down 12-0.
The second half was one-sided. North Dakota scored touchdowns on five of their six total drives, punting the ball only once. Drake’s lone score came in the end of the third quarter from a Corwin pass to fifth-year tight end/wide receiver Devin Cates. Cates stands tall at 6’4” adding 240 pounds to his big frame. Cates has been scouted by the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings so far this season. Drake ended up falling to North Dakota 47-7 in the season-opener.
Fifth-year senior defensive end Erin Morgan discussed how Stepsis handled the loss and how the team needs to prepare for the next game on Drake’s schedule.
“We have to keep working,” Morgan said. “Coach Stepsis asked us after the game what we could have [done] different in our preparation as individuals to change the outcome. He wants each of us to ask ourselves if we did everything we need to do to get the best outcome whether it be watching film, recovery, or going all out on every single rep.”
Freshman QB Ian Corwin finished the game 8-for-20 passing for 55 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Lauer led all running backs in the game with 73 yards on 21 carries. Cates and Doran led the receiving corps with 2 receptions for 19 and 16 yards respectively. Cates caught Drake’s only touchdown of the game.
“In the moment it feels like a complete gut punch to lose the way we did,” Doran said. “However, the most improvement in a football season comes between week one and week two, so knowing that our team is full of resilient individuals gives me hope that we’ll greatly improve.”