Story and photo courtesy of Drake Athletics
DES MOINES, Iowa – In a battle of two top-10 passing offenses, the Drake University football team outdueled Morehead State on a record-setting Saturday afternoon at Drake Stadium.
Led by fifth-year senior quarterback Mike Piatkowski (Wheaton, Ill.), the Bulldogs (2-2, 1-0 PFL) fought off a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to top the Eagles, 28-25. Piatkowski set the school record for career passing yards in the second quarter with a five-yard completion to senior Joey Orlando (Park Ridge, Ill.). Piatkowski needed just 31 yards coming in to the game to surpass Ira Vandever’s record of 7,868 yards set in 2002. The reigning PFL Offensive Player of the Year finished the game with 29-for-41 passing, for 268 yards and three touchdowns. He now stands alone at 8,106 career passing yards.
“I try not to think about it [the record],” Piatkowski said after the game. “At the end of the season, I’ll probably think about it, but we got a win today and that’s all that matters. It was a team effort and the crowd was a big part of that.”
Orlando was Piatkowski’s top target on the day, with eight receptions for 73 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Gary Scott, Jr. (Forsyth, Ill.) led the ground game with 119 yards on 28 carries and one touchdown.
Defensively, the Bulldogs shut down the sixth-ranked passing offense of the Eagles. Despite only recording one sack on the afternoon, the Bulldogs held the Eagles to a season low 172 pass yards. Sophomore John Hugunin (Oswego, Ill.) led the defense with 16 tackles and one sack. Junior Travis Merritt (Johnston, Iowa) added 14 additional tackles to the defensive total.
Drake used an eight-play, 74-yard drive at the beginning of the fourth quarter to regain momentum lost in the third quarter. The drive concluded with a Piatkowski touchdown pass to sophomore J.T. Teague (Carrollton, Texas) to bring the Bulldogs within three points with 13 minutes remaining in the game.
After the Drake defense came up strong on the following MSU possession, sophomore Drew Ormseth (Lake in the Hills, Ill.) set the offense up with great field position following his 36-yard punt return. Piatkowski then gave the Blue and White its first lead of the game, 21-17, with 9:51 remaining in the game, by finding senior Nick Rosa (Owasso, Okla.) in the end zone.
Drake all but sealed the victory with four minutes remaining in the game, converting on 4th-and-2 from the 14-yard line. Scott took an option pitch into the end zone to give Drake a two-score lead. With the run, Drake’s leading rusher recorded the second 100-yard game of his career.
“We kind of had to have a wake-up call there late,” head coach Chris Creighton said. “I don’t know that we played any differently in the fourth quarter outside of there being some passion and imposing our will.”
Although Morehead State countered with a six-play, 62-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown, they could not recover the onside kick, allowing Drake to bleed the clock to 1:28. Despite sustaining a drive to midfield, Lewis was picked by fifth-year senior Tyler Moorehead (Mason City, Iowa) with 36 seconds remaining on the clock to put an end to any chance at a comeback.
Morehead State deviated from its typical passing offense early, instead opting for the rushing game on the opening drive. That strategy worked, as the Eagles pounded their way down the field before turning to the aerial attack on a 26-yard pass play from senior Zach Lewis to Donte Sawyer to cap an 11-play, 81-yard drive.
It would take the Bulldogs until late in the second quarter to respond to the Eagles’ score when Piatkowski connected with Orlando for nine yards immediately following a fumble recovery by fifth-year senior Anthony Gianaras (Mundelein, Ill).
Despite fielding two top-ten passing offenses, the defenses shined in the first half. At the break both teams were off their offensive pace as Drake had 135 yards through the air, with the majority coming in the second quarter, while Morehead State had only 54 through the half. Instead, both teams utilized the running game to create a 7-7 tie at the half.
However, Morehead State took control of the momentum in the third quarter by taking a 17-7 advantage by the end of the quarter. Morehead State linebacker Jordan Hendrix took advantage of a rare Piatkowski mistake with an interception to set up the Eagles’ offense in prime position. Hendrix returned his interception 25-yards before lateralling the ball to John Coleman who added seven-yards to the return total. MSU executed two plays later on a 27-yard rush by Brandon Bornhauser out of the Wildcat offense to set up the final fourth quarter sequence.
The Bulldogs continue PFL next weekend when they travel to Buies Creek, N.C., to face Campbell University. Kickoff is scheduled for 5 p.m. CDT.