by JD PELEGRINO
Over the weekend, the Bulldogs football team traveled all the way to Poughkeepsie, NY (six-hour flight and 17-hour drive) to face the Marist Red Foxes in their Pioneer Football League home-opener. The 2019 season had been full of ups and downs for Drake prior to Saturday, as they’ve worked through the growing pains of fine-tuning freshman quarterback, Ian Corwin. Corwin and his Bulldogs dropped three straight to begin the regular season, but all against out-of-conference opponents. Drake had a bye week last week, giving them time to practice, reflect on the first three games of the season, what they liked about the team so far and what they should be doing better.
Drake’s offense scored touchdowns on 4-of-6 first half drives, with 3 passing touchdowns and 1 rushing touchdown by fifth-year running back Drew Lauer. The Bulldog defense opened up the game and limited the Marist offense to four plays and 16 yards. Marist punted the ball to Drake for their first drive in New York. Things were almost perfect. Beginning their drive at their own 41-yard line, Lauer a handoff from Corwin on Drake’s opening offensive drive for 5 yards. Then on second-and-5, Corwin hit redshirt-senior wide receiver Shane Feller for a 7-yard gain. Not stopping there, Corwin’s next pass soared to freshman WR, Blake Curtain for 5 yards. With the ball on the Marist 28-yard line, Lauer took the next to plays on the ground for 16 total yards. On second-and-7 from the Marist 22, Corwin completed a 22-yard touchdown pass to this season’s leading receiver Devin Cates. Bulldogs take the lead 7-0.
“We always talk as a team about starting ‘fast’ and taking the air out of our opponents as soon as possible and I think we finally did that this game,” Cates said. “Being able to throw the first few big punches in a fight is always an advantage and I think that’s exactly what we did.”
Once again on the next drive, Drake forced a Marist punt, putting the ball in Corwin’s hands. Corwin threw only two passes on the drive, but had a 4-yard run that resulted in a personal foul on Marist, advancing the Drake ball into Marist territory. Lauer had three carries for 18 yards. Corwin’s first pass fell incomplete to Feller, but the second, from the Marist 32-yard line, found Feller for a 32-yard score. With a failed PAT by Drake place kicker Nathan De Bruin, Drake took the lead 13-0.
Sending the ball back to Marist, Drake was in a took spot leading 13-0. The defense had been playing strong and with motivation to deny Marist scoring attempts. In the longest drive of the first half by either team, Marist went took 4:55 to run 13 plays that led to an eventual field goal. 13-3 Bulldogs.
The final five minutes of the first half set the tone for the rest of the game. Drake began production on their own 27-yard line. Corwin moved the offense down the field completed all 6 passes to five different receivers. Once Drake reached the 4-yard line, that is prime Lauer territory, Lauer pounded the ball in for a 4-yard score. The Bulldogs took the rock 73-yards in nine plays to increase the lead to 20-3.
The Drake defense shoots for three takeaways each game. After kicking the ball of to Marist on the next drive, redshirt-junior defensive back Jeran Proctor picked off Marist QB Austin Day’s first pass of the drive. Proctor took the ball 54 yards the other way to the Marist 21 before getting tackled. With 19 seconds left on the clock, the offense had to put something together. Corwin hit Cates for a 17-yard gain to the Marist 4. Head coach Todd Stepsis called a timeout with 14 seconds left. With a fresh set of downs at the 4-yard line, Corwin found junior tight end Matt Hartlieb for a 4-yard touchdown. Drake led Marist 27-3 at the end of the first half.
“I thought that the team played a really good first half, but we needed to do a better job of coming out in the second half with the same fire and energy we brought at the start of the game,” Corwin said. “The defense did what they’ve shown all year and played very tough, and I think the offense finally found some rhythm and we were able to move the ball effectively.”
The Bulldogs added two more touchdowns in the second half via a 29-yard pass from Corwin to WR Steve Doran and a 56-yard rush by Caden Meis. The defense allowed two touchdowns in the second half, but that wasn’t close to enough as the Bulldogs capture their first win of the season, in conference play against Marist by a score of 41-17.
Corwin played his best game of the season, completing 20-of-29 passes for 255 yards with a career-high 4 touchdown passes and 1 interception. Corwin’s vision on the field was undeniable as the freshman hit seven different receivers for completions throughout the game.
“I think that playing a PFL opponent gave us motivation in a sense that there is no better time to turn this thing around and start winning games than right now,” Corwin said. “At the end of the day, the most important games that we need to win in order to achieve our goals are conference games.”
Lauer led the ground game for the Bulldogs with 75 yards and a score on 15 rushing attempts. Lauer averaged 5 yards-per-carry in the contest with Meis and safety Will Warner each contributing 55 rushing yards.
Feller was the leading receiver in the game with 6 receptions for 102 yards and 1 score. Next up was Cates with 3 grabs for 67 yards and 1 touchdown, and then Doran with 2 catches for 39 yards and 1 touchdown.
The offense looked better against Marist than it did all season so far. It could have been the time off, the hard work that went into preparing for this game, the team’s motivation to win and capture a conference title on a senior-heavy team. Regardless of the team’s motivation to win, they begin the conference part of their schedule 1-0 after capturing a clean win against Marist 41-17.
“It’s always important to have older leaders make plays on both offense and defense,” Cates said. “However, it is equally important for the younger guys to step up as well. We had 6 different people score this week with 2 of those being career first. That is awesome in the sense that if you are an opposing defensive coordinator watching this film, you can’t really pinpoint any individual to try and take away or plan your game plan around.”
Drake will be back at home on Saturday, Oct. 5 to face Valparaiso (0-4, 0-0 conf.) Valpo has played Truman State this season, who Drake lost to in week 2 by the score of 10-7, but lost to them 38-7. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m.