The Drake football team came into this past Saturday’s game seemingly ready to win against Valparaiso following two rough outings on the road. While the Bulldogs’ season up to this past Saturday was less than ideal, the first game of true conference play, counting towards final standings in the Pioneer Football League, provided a chance to right the ship against a team that Drake has often defeated in the past.
Things looked promising right out of the gate with the Bulldogs’ defense reeling in an interception off Valparaiso’s first pass attempt of the day. Unfortunately, things got continuously worse from that point on.
The Bulldogs fought hard, staying in the game and even securing a four-point lead with just minutes left in the fourth quarter. Even with this lead and momentum on their side, the defense failed to prevent Valparaiso’s redshirt junior backup quarterback Ben Nimz from completing a touchdown pass to take a three-point lead with just 1:04 left in the game. Nimz was subbed after starting junior quarterback Teryn Berry’s third interception of the game.
Despite sophomore quarterback Luke Bailey marching the offense 50 yards from Drake’s 25 to Valparaiso’s 25 in the final minute of the game, Drake junior kicker Nathan De Bruin failed to connect on a game-tying field goal.
Following the heartbreaking loss, Bulldog fans began to wonder who was at fault. Blame quickly settled on both head coach Todd Stepsis and the Bulldogs’ starting center.
The blame on Todd Stepsis primarily came from the team’s clock management on the final drive of the game. Stepsis elected to either spike the football or play with a no-huddle offense on the final drive rather than use all three of their timeouts, which led to roughly 32 seconds lost in exchange for a single five-yard completion and a deep incompletion. Drake University finished the game with a timeout still available.
Tim Frantz, a devoted first-year fan of the Bulldogs, reacted to the game.
“Though they didn’t get the result they wanted, it was an intense matchup that showed Drake can seriously compete with other schools,” said Frantz
The blame on the Bulldogs’ starting center came from numerous botched snaps, including a low snap on the final field goal attempt that may have played a part in the unsuccessful kick.
One positive of the game was quarterback Luke Bailey’s bounce-back performance following a rough loss to North Dakota in which Bailey threw two interceptions. This performance allowed Bailey to finish the game with 283 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions through the air.
Following the game, Luke Bailey was interviewed in search of an explanation for the loss and about the numerous botched snaps.
“Going into the game, our starting center had to snap with his left [non-dominant] hand due to a wrist injury,” Bailey said. “I thought he played great; it is just difficult to be perfect when only using your non-dominant hand.”
Despite the loss, there is no question about the resilience the Bulldogs displayed over Parents & Family Weekend, staying close to Valparaiso up until the final whistle. Going forward, this loss will undoubtedly play a key part in building up Drake’s focus.
“Moving on, we just have to focus on controlling what we can control,” Bailey said. “That game is behind us, we need to learn from it and shift our focus onto our next opponent. I believe we can win out the rest of the season and continue our hopes for a top spot in the conference.”
While Luke Bailey holds a strong confidence in this team’s ability to compete for a top spot in the Pioneer Football League, fans remain skeptical. When a team forces five turnovers, leads with just over a minute left in the game and ultimately loses, it it fair to be doubtful of the future. These next few weeks will show whether or not this Bulldogs team can stand up to adversity and compete for a title.