DES MOINES, Iowa — The Drake University football team’s defense forced six turnovers en route to a 38-10 victory over San Diego Saturday afternoon at Drake Stadium. The homecoming win avenged the Bulldogs’ only Pioneer Football League loss from a year ago and improved Drake to 3-0 in the PFL and 4-2 overall.
The Toreros, who shared the PFL title with Drake last season, dropped to 2-3 on the year and 1-1 in PFL play.
“It’s early in the Pioneer Football League season, but all of them are big in this league,” Drake head coach Chris Creighton said. “They shared the title with us and are picked to win the league, so our guys wanted to play well today and I think that they did.”
Drake put up 378 yards of total offense, but had great field position throughout the day thanks to the defense’s effort. Senior quarterback Mike Piatkowski (Wheaton, Ill.) had four touchdowns on the afternoon, three passing and one on the ground and was 21-of-31 through the air for 250 yards.
Seniors Nick Rosa (Owasso, Okla.) and Kevin Marshall (Glen Elynn, Ill.) each had big games receiving. Rosa led the game with 112 yards on six catches and two touchdowns, all in the first half. Marshall snagged five catches for 45 yards and a touchdown, his first of the season.
The Drake defense forced a season-high six turnovers on the afternoon, never giving San Diego an opportunity to get into rhythm on offense.
“They were No. 1 in the league in fewest turnovers coming in,” Drake head coach Chris Creighton said. “We knew we that we were going to have to change that and that any really good team is going to struggle with that many turnovers.”
Junior Travis Merritt (Johnston, Iowa) had the team’s first interception on the first play of the Torero's second drive. Senior Mike Ratelle (Edina, Minn.), and sophomores Brad Duwe (Dubuque, Iowa) and John Bloss (Wheaton, Ill.) each also had a pick.
Duwe and Merritt each forced fumbles as well that were recovered by sophomore John Hugunin (Oswego, Ill.) and junior Matt Acree (Shawnee, Kan.).
Junior T.J. James (Des Moines, Iowa) led the Bulldogs in rushing on the day with 11 carries for 83 yards and a score. His 19-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter was Drake’s final touchdown of the afternoon.
The Toreros’ offensive attack looked very formidable throughout most of the afternoon. Quarterback Mason Mills threw for 216 yards on 24-of-37 passing and halfback Kenn James ran for 98 yards. The 13th best passing offense in the FCS was continually disrupted by high pressure at the line and the Bulldog secondary.
San Diego had an impressive first drive of the game, converting two third downs and a fourth down. The drive eventually stalled after a Mills incompletion in Drake territory. Ernie Collins had the distance on his 51-yard field goal attempt with a strong wind at his back but the kick sailed wide right.
Piatkowski quickly got the Drake offense going. After tossing three consecutive first down passes to Marshall, senior Joey Orlando (Park Ridge, Ill.), and Rosa the reigning PFL Offensive Player of the Year hit Marshall again for a 5-yard score. It was Marshall’s first touchdown of the season and Piatkowski’s ninth to put the Bulldogs up 7-0.
On the ensuing San Diego drive, Mills misread Drake’s coverage and was intercepted by Merritt. The Bulldogs took over, but stalled at the USD 28-yard line. Electing to go for it on 4th and five, Rosa burned his defender with a hesitation move and Piatkowski hit him in stride to give Drake a 14-0 lead.
Penalties and sacks on both ends kept the offenses at bay for much of the second quarter. Midway through the quarter the Toreros started a drive at their own 20-yard line. After impressive first down runs by Kenn James, Mills connected with Sam Hoekstra for 43 yards to the Bulldog 2-yard line. Mills then lofted a nice fade pass to Brandon White on the next play to bring his team back within seven, 14-7.
The Toreros’ next drive saw them move the ball from their own 34-yard line to the Bulldog 21-yard line on nine plays. Facing a second down and seven yards to gain, safety Ratelle jumped a route to grab an interception at his own 10-yard line and return it to the Drake 42-yard line.
With 42 seconds left in the half Drake struck quickly. Piatkowski hit Rosa on two quick out passes before going over the top to hit the streaking Rosa for a 40-yard touchdown strike, putting the halftime score at 21-7.
Rosa had six catches in the first half for 112 yards and two touchdowns. Piatkowski was 14-of-20 for 179 yards and three touchdowns on the half.
The Toreros began with the ball after the break but didn’t keep it for long. On the first play from scrimmage the Drake defensive line forced Mills out of the pocket. He attempted to hit a receiver on the run, but instead threw the ball into the hands of Bulldog cornerback Duwe.
After a penalty set them back, Piatkowski hit James on a pass, then an option pitch. With third and goal at the 8-yard line, Drake again ran an option, this time Piatkowski keeping the ball and bowling over a Torero defender for this third rushing touchdown of the year.
After a Spencer Lee (Johnson, Iowa) kick-off the Bulldogs defense struck again. The special teams unit was barely off the field when Merritt popped the USD returner to jar the ball loose and Matt Acree claimed possession.
Sophomore quarterback Andy Rice (Stevens Point, Wis.) came into the game in brief relief of Piatkowski and completed his first two passes before the drive stalled at the 4 yard-line. Freshman Cam Bohnert (Edmond, Okla.) knocked in his first career field goal from 20 yards to give Drake a 31-7 lead.
San Diego put together impressive drives the entire second half, only to have them stalled by penalties or turnovers. On the first drive of the fourth quarter the Toreros got the ball inside the Bulldogs 10-yard line before a penalty on fourth down forced them to settle for a field goal. It would be the last points they would score.
Drake put together one last drive, starting at its own 16-yard line and marching down the field, with the help of a pass interference call. James had 47 yards on the drive, finishing the scoring with an 18-yard touchdown run on a draw play, making the final score 38-10.
The Bulldogs defense forced San Diego into two more turnovers on the game. The first came as Hugunin forced a fumble by Joe Ferguson. Mills and the Toreros were again threatening in Drake territory when John Bloss jumped a route and gave the Bulldog’s their fourth interception on the day. Bloss had an impressive return to the San Diego two, but it was called back because of a holding penalty.
The Bulldogs continue PFL play next weekend at Valparaiso. Kickoff is scheduled for noon