VALPARAISO, Ind. – The Drake University football team overcame rainy conditions and a determined Valparaiso squad on Saturday to defeat the Crusaders, 35-21, in a Pioneer Football League contest at Valparaiso's Brown Field.
Junior Jacob Schmudlach (Carthage, Ill.) had a career day for the Bulldogs, leading the receiving corps with 143 yards on seven catches and a touchdown on the ground. Despite the soggy conditions, quarterback Mike Piatkowski (Wheaton, Ill.) remained accurate, completing 22 of his 36 passes for 327 yards and a touchdown. Trey Morse (Elmo, Texas) led Drake in rushing with 67 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown.
Defensively, Drake (5-2, 4-0 PFL) held strong when needed, limiting the Crusaders’ (0-6, 0-3 PFL) scoring opportunities. Travis Merritt (Johnston, Iowa) paced the defense with 10 tackles while John Hugunin (Oswego, Ill.) added nine stops
Drake set the tone for the game on the opening kickoff as senior Mike Ratelle (Edina, Minn.) returned the kickoff 88 yards to give the Bulldogs the early 7-0 advantage. Ratelle’s touchdown return was the first for the Blue and White since the 2007 season. He also added eight tackles and a sack.
“It was great to start the game off like that,” head coach Chris Creighton said. “This is a tough place to play and the whole kickoff return team and Mike Ratelle made a great run. That was an awesome start to the game.”
Although Valpo was within striking distance after recovering a botched snap in the middle of the first quarter, Drake forced a turnover just three plays later with an interception by Jake Underwood (Cary, Ill.) at the Drake 3-yard line. Underwood returned the ball 14 yards and set up the Bulldogs with good field position after drawing a personal foul penalty for a late hit. Piatkowski found Schmudlach on the drive, for 31 and 16 yards, before connecting with T.J. James (Des Moines, Iowa) for his first touchdown pass of the day on a screen pass from 10 yards out.
The downpour hindered Drake’s offense early as the pace was slowed by officials replacing wet balls on every down. However, the weather conditions did impact the game again until Drake’s second turnover of the day, a dropped punt return that set up the Crusaders at the Drake 28-yard line.
“We wanted to play with tempo and that was the No. 1 part of our game plan, to play with tempo and we couldn’t,” Creighton said. “The weather is not an excuse, but of course it impacts the game. Everyone plays in the same conditions so you’ve got to win no matter what and I thought we responded pretty well to the weather.”
After dropping a pass in the end zone on second down, Valparaiso’s Eric Slenk redeemed himself on fourth down, hauling in a floater to give sophomore quarterback Ben Lehman his first career touchdown pass with 2:17 remaining in the first quarter.
The Drake offense picked up pace in the closing minutes of the first half with Piatkowski leading the Bulldogs on an eight-play, 80-yard drive that concluded with a one-yard touchdown run by Schmudlach to give the Bulldogs a 21-7 halftime lead.
“I thought Mike [Piatkowski] called a great game,” Creighton said. “He just manages the game and does such a great job with that.”
Senior Trey Morse (Elmo, Texas) was instrumental on the drive, rushing for 16-yards on four carries, and one reception for nine yards, to set up the Schmudlach touchdown.
The Crusaders fought back on the opening drive in the second half, however, capitalizing on a penalty that nullified an interception. It looked as if John Bloss (Wheaton, Ill.) had ended Valpo’s scoring threat with an interception at the 11-yard line, but a roughing the passer penalty allowed the drive to continue. The Crusaders used their second chance to cap the 16-play, 69-yard drive with a Ryan Lehr rushing touchdown to pull the Crusaders within one score at 21-14.
The following Drake drive saw the Bulldogs take advantage of a pass interference call on Valparaiso that extended the Bulldogs drive. After penalties set the offense back 20 yards, Drake elected to keep the offense on the field on 4th-and-22. While Piatkowski’s pass fell incomplete to Nick Rosa (Owasso, Okla.), the Crusaders were called for pass interference to extend the drive. Drake made the most of the second chance and extended its lead, 28-14, on Piatkowski’s 1-yard sneak with 3:48 remaining in the third quarter.
Morse put the game out of reach late in the fourth quarter, taking a pitch for 29 yards, to extend Drake’s lead, 35-14, with 3:38 remaining in the game. Valparaiso tacked on a score with 2:05 left in the contest on a 23-yard Quinn Schafer reception from Eric Slenk to account for the 35-21 final.
The Bulldogs return to Drake Stadium next Saturday for another PFL matchup with Marist. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.