History was made this past Saturday, but it wasn’t in the Bulldog’s favor. Valparaiso University was able to capture their third series win against Drake’s football team, their most recent one earned since 2003.
Even though the Bulldogs now fall at 1-2 in the Pioneer Football League and eighth in the rankings, head coach Todd Stepsis said he learned to look at things differently.
“My old man always said, ‘Start with something positive,’” Stepsis said. “We just have to get back to work and learn from these mistakes.”
Saturday’s game was a close contest between the two teams, with Drake and Valparaiso matching each other with solid offensive, defensive, and special teams performances. It was a game where the first team to score was going to win.
And Valpo did just that with a field goal conversion late in the third quarter. The Bulldogs would proceed to miss their own field goal on the next drive, adding to an overall disappointing redzone efficiency rating for the day.
Sophomore receiver Colin Howard reflected on the mistakes made offensively.
“I think we got a little conservative when we got there,” Howard said. “But with no points on the board, we needed to be aggressive.”
Coach Stepsis said to expect the Bulldogs to hone in on their skills in the upcoming weeks.
“We’ll probably go a little more number one offense versus number one defense,” Stepsis said. “One thing that we need to focus more on the offensive side of the ball is doing our job but not overthinking it.”
Defensively, Drake was able to hold their own for the majority of the game. But a few big runs early in the fourth quarter pushed Valpo’s lead to ten.
Senior linebacker Will Kulick aided the Bulldogs in their effort to slow down Valparaiso, with 11 solo tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and a quarterback hurry. Kulick offered his thoughts on the defensive’s performance.
“I think we left a lot of plays on the field; we didn’t execute how we wanted,” Kulick said. “Defensively, we played pretty well, but we let up too many points. And the score reflects.”
Drake attempted to make a late comeback in the game, as they completed one of their most impressive offensive drives to date. With the help of a 15 yard defensive pass interference call, the Bulldogs racked up a combined 51 passing yards and a rushing touchdown in under a minute, shortening the lead to three.
Howard was a part of the 46 yard passing play that fueled the comeback drive. Recording his first three collegiate catches of his young career, the Drake receiver said it felt good to be involved in the offense.
“We were trying to get a deep shot for me the entire game pretty much,” Howard said. “My mindset is just to give one hundred percent effort every single play whether I’m getting the ball or not.”
A defensive stop later, Drake was eyeing to bring the game back into their favor, but a sack by Valpo defensive lineman Austin Martins ended the Bulldog’s opportunity. Drake’s injuries at the guard positions came back to bite them, as the constant defensive pressure by Valpo caused three sacks and an interception during the game.
On top of that, this game featured the third quarterback to start for the Bulldog’s this season, with junior Hunter Wendling taking snaps under center. Given the unconventional start, Wendling made the most of his situation by throwing for over 173 yards, helping Drake add a few layers to what has been arguably a one-dimensional rushing attack so far.
Coach Stepsis gave credit to Wendling on his first start, “Any time you have three signal callers in three weeks, it’s tough to get into a rhythm,” Stepsis said. “I thought he threw the ball pretty well. You saw some accurate balls and some tough catches, and we haven’t had a lot of that.”
Howard touched on the adverse situation of practicing with three different starting quarterbacks this season.
“Whether it’s Hunter, Ben or Ian these next two games,” Howard said. “I feel comfortable where we’re at. I like both of those guys a lot, and they are all great leaders.”
It will be interesting to see where the Bulldogs go from this disappointing start to the season. With an impressive defense and an offense that’s just starting to get its feet wet in the passing game, Drake’s Kulick said the team is looking to make a statement in their next game against Butler University.
“We’re going to come forward and try to put our best foot forward,” Kulick said. “Come out and just make some plays. Just play Drake football.”
Drake’s next game will be on the road at the Butler Bowl in Indianapolis, Indiana. Kickoff is scheduled to commence at 11 a.m. The game will streamed on the Butler Athletics YouTube account, and a radio stream will take place at 1350 ESPN Des Moines.