Story and photo courtesy of Drake Athletics
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The mantra for the Drake football team all season was "We Will" and for the Bulldogs (8-3, 7-1 PFL) their come-from-behind 32-29 victory over Jacksonville (7-4, 5-3 PFL) on Saturday (Nov. 17) completed the mission as the squad captured a share of its second consecutive Pioneer Football League title and sixth conference championship in program history.
With the win, Drake moved into a tie with Butler for a share of the PFL crown at 7-1 in the league. Last week, Drake defeated Butler 45-20, to put itself in position to win back-to-back league titles.
The back-to-back crowns marked the first for the Bulldogs since Drake won the Missouri Valley Conference four straight years from 1928-31.
The outcome of the game came down to the wire as a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns helped the Bulldogs erase a 22-17 deficit to hold a 32-22 lead with 9:53 to play.
A two-yard touchdown by Jacksonville's Keith Dawson with 2:53 left in regulation cut Drake's advantage to 32-29.
Armed with a full complement of timeouts, the Dolphins held the Bulldogs to a three-and-out to get the ball back with 2:04 to play.
Jacksonville scored 15 fourth quarter points to put Bulldog fans on edge, but the Drake defense came through in the final two minutes of the game to squash a potential game changing by forcing three straight incomplete passes with the last being broken up by senior defensive lineman Brandon Coleman (Cary, Ill.).
The triumph was the first for the Bulldogs over the Dolphins in Jacksonville since 2006 and the first for head coach Chris Creighton
Senior quarterback Mike Piatkowski (Wheaton, Ill.) completed 25-of-34 passes for 277 and a pair of touchdowns for Drake. With his efforts on the day, he surpassed 10,000 passing yards in his distinguished career.
Drake's leading ground gainer was sophomore Gary Scott (Forsyth, Ill.) with 55 yards and two touchdowns, while senior Kevin Marshall (Glen Elynn, Ill.) hauled in 11 passes for 110 yards and one touchdown to pace the Bulldogs' receivers.
Defensively Drake was paced by a seven-tackle effort from senior Jake Underwood (Cary, Ill.), while junior Travis Merritt (Johnston, Iowa) registered eight tackles for the defense's balanced effort with two sacks and three tackles for loss as the Bulldogs recorded 10 tackles in the Dolphins backfield.
The Bulldogs assumed an early 7-0 advantage in the contest when Scott capped a seven-play, 45-yard drive with a two-yard scamper on third-and-one. The big play on the drive was a 12-yard completion from Piatkowski to Marshall.
After a three-and-out by Jacksonville, Drake and the Dolphins both fumbled the ball with the Underwood recovering a fumble by Treviu Folston at the Dolphins' 43-yard line.
Drake then extended its lead with a five-play, 43-yard drive to go up 14-0 on a one-yard play-action pass from Piatkowski to a wide-open Marshall in the corner. Setting up the score with a 21-yard run around the left end from the 22-yard line was Scott.
The Bulldogs controlled the ball for 9:04 in the first quarter and held a 14-0 lead.
Facing a fourth-and-seven at its own 41-yard line, Drake pulled out a fake punt as the ball was snapped to an up-man and then handed off to Underwood who went around the left side and raced for 44 yards to the Jacksonville seven-yard line.
The Dolphins locked down defensively and forced the Bulldogs into a 22-yard field goal by freshman Cam Bohnert (Edmond, Okla.) to go up 17-0 with 11:57 left in the half.
After a three-and-out by Jacksonville, the Dolphins pinned the Bulldogs at the six-yard line on a 56-yard punt by Kody Thomas.
Jacksonville corralled Piatkowski in the end zone for a safety.
The Dolphins tacked on a field goal as time expired in the first half as the Bulldogs went into the intermission up 17-5.
Drake received the ball to begin the second half and Andre Addison intercepted Piatkowski and returned the ball 50 yards for a touchdown.
Jacksonville then took a 19-17 lead on a 32-yard pass completion from Folston to D'Andre Randle with 3:47 left in the third quarter.
A 32-yard completion on third-and-10 from Piatkowski to senior Nick Rosa (Owosso, Okla.) saved a drive to start the fourth quarter. Senior Joey Orlando (Park Ridge, Ill.) came back to haul in a 27-yard pass from Piatkowski at the one-yard line. A one-yard push up the middle by Scott gave Drake a 23-22 lead. The Bulldogs then successfully converted a two-point conversion with a diving catch by Rosa.
After a three-and-out defensive stand, senior Mike Ratelle (Edina, Minn.) took in the Jacksonville punt and returned it to the eight-yard line with a 36-yard return. After a five-yard delay of game penalty, a 13-yard pass from Piatkowski to Orlando placed Drake up 32-22 with 9:53 left.