DES MOINES, Iowa - The Drake University football team kept No. 4 Montana State on the ropes for nearly 60 minutes Saturday evening, but a pair of late touchdowns helped the Bobcats escape Drake Stadium with a 34-24 victory.
The Bulldogs (1-1) led 24-21 at the end of three quarters before MSU (2-0) scored twice and made critical stops on defense to preserve the win in the contest between a pair of defending conference champions.
"This is not ok that we lost, we wanted to come in here tonight and win this game," head coach Chris Creighton said. "Don't get me wrong, that's a great football team that we played, but we came out here to win this game."
Senior quarterback Mike Piatkowski (Wheaton, Ill.) led the Bulldogs' aerial attack with 311 yards on 25-of-43 passing and a touchdown. He also added a touchdown on the ground. However, the Bobcats had a significant advantage on the ground, outgaining Drake, 168-59, with the yardage split almost evenly between Orenzo Davis, Tray Robinson and Cody Kirk.
Drake's defense, especially on the line, continued its strong play with 12 tackles for loss and three sacks against the Bobcats extremely mobile passer, DeNarius McGhee. John Hugunin (Oswego, Ill.), who finished with a game-high 13 tackles, Brett Park (Olivette, Mo.) and Brandon Coleman ( Cary, Ill.) each had three tackles for loss.
"Those guys were so focused today that I didn't know what to say to them from the pre-game meal on," Creighton said. "They left everything on the field tonight. Those guys are good."
Montana State scored first on the evening with a two-yard Kirk touchdown to cap a 90-yard drive, to give the Bobcats a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter.
It would not take long for the Bulldogs to respond, as Piatkowski led the Bulldogs down the field, going 5-for-6 on the drive for 48 yards. Senior tight end Kevin Marshall (Glen Ellyn, Ill.) was a key receiver for Piatkowski on the drive, collecting 39 yards on four receptions. Marshall finished the evening with 100 receiving yards.
That Bulldog drive was kept alive by a fake punt that saw sophomore Michael Hudson (Urbandale, Iowa) scamper 30 yards down the sideline when he only needed six yards to convert. Junior T.J. James (Des Moines, Iowa) capped the drive, scoring his first career touchdown wearing blue and white on a one-yard rush, with 10:44 remaining in the half.
Piatkowski continued his passing prowess on the following Drake drive, connecting with seniors Nick Rosa (Owasso, Okla.) and Joey Orlando (Park Ridge, Ill.) for gains of 39 and 22 yards. A pair of passes into the end zone came up empty, leading to a Spencer Lee (Johnston, Iowa) field goal from 27-yards out.
The Bulldogs took a 17-14 lead into the half on an eight play, 76-yard drive, with a 15-yard touchdown strike from Piatkowski to Hudson. Orlando grabbed another key catch on the drive, this time for 30 yards, to keep the drive alive and set Drake up in the Montana State red zone.
Montana State started the second half with renewed energy. After holding the Bulldogs to a three-and-out, the Bobcats roared down the field to take the lead, 21-17. Quarterback DeNarius McGhee scrambled for two third down conversions, including his five-yard touchdown run.
Later, it was Drake's turn to take advantage of a Montana State mistake, when Drew Ormseth (Lake in the Hills, Ill.) picked off McGhee to give the Bulldogs great field position on the MSU 41-yard line. The passing game continued to be strong as Piatkowski found Marshall once again, this time for a 16-yard gain to set the Bulldogs up inside the five-yard line. Piatkowski got into the endzone on a keeper two plays later from the one-yard line to put the Bulldogs on top, 24-21, with 3:20 remaining in the third quarter.
The early moments of the fourth quarter saw Tray Robinson responded for the Bobcats, breaking free to score a 30-yard touchdown. The extra point was missed to give MSU as 27-24 lead with 11:34 remaining in the game.
The Bulldogs stayed within striking distance as sophomore John Bloss (Wheaton, Ill.) recovered a fumble at the Bulldogs' 20-yard line with 7:12 remaining in the fourth quarter. Drake's offense stalled at the 40-yard line after Gary Scott, Jr.'s (Forsyth, Ill.) run on fourth down was smothered.
Montana State didn't put an end to the Bulldogs' upset bid until a touchdown extended its lead, 34-24, with 1:28 remaining in the game. The 9-play, 40-yard drive, erased 3:25 of game clock, which would not leave enough time for Drake to make a comeback.
"There's a lot of disappointment right now," Creighton said. "I'm so proud of our team and I told them I love and respect them so much. We wanted for them to experience the joy of winning this this game, but we'll watch the film and move forward, but I wouldn't coach another team in the nation."
The Bulldogs will travel to Indiana State next weekend for a 1 p.m. matchup with the Sycamores in their first road game and final non-conference game of the season.