DES MOINES, Iowa – The Drake University football team kept its Pioneer Football League title aspirations alive Saturday by knocking off league-leading Butler, 45-20, on Senior Day. With the win can clinch a share of the Pioneer Football League championship for the second consecutive season with a win next Saturday at Jacksonville.
“Today was a great day, no doubt about it,” Drake head coach Chris Creighton said. “Butler has had a great season and clinched a share of the PFL title, but there’s a good feeling here right now. I feel pretty good about all three phases of the game and we beat a good team today.”
Senior quarterback Mike Piatkowski (Wheaton, Ill.) had an impressive finale to his historic career at Drake Stadium, throwing for 366 yards on 29-of-40 passing with a career-high five touchdowns. Gary Scott, Jr. (Forsyth, Ill.) showed his versatility on the ground and as a receiving target for Drake (7-3, 6-1 PFL). Scott had 88 total yards for the Bulldogs, to go along with three touchdowns, two on touchdown receptions. Nick Rosa (Owasso, Okla.) was the top target for Piatkowski, catching nine passes for 123 yards. Grahm Butler (Brock, Neb.) added two touchdown catches, along with five receptions for 91 yards.
“Defensively, you could tell we had a lot of energy and pep in our step,” Creighton said. “There was a lot of communication and excitement. It was fun to watch."
Drake’s defense completely shut down Butler’s (8-3, 7-1 PFL) offense, only allowing three scoring drives. That defense, ranked second in the PFL in yards allowed limited Butler to a season-low 303 yards of total offense. The Butler rushing attack was also held to a season-low 50 yards without the services of the PFL’s top rusher in Trae Heeter who missed the contest due to injury. Anthony Gianaras (Mundelein, Ill.) led the Bulldogs with eight tackles, two behind the line of scrimmage, in his final home game. Tyler Moorehead (Mason City, Iowa) had two critical sacks that disrupted scoring opportunities for Butler, and seven tackles overall.
Although Drake was down early, they did not trail again after taking the lead, 7-6, at 4:02 in the second quarter. On that drive, Piatkowski found Rosa on consecutive plays, for 12 and 38 yards, respectively, to set his offense up in striking distance inside the red zone. After Joey Orlando (Park Ridge, Ill.) converted a third and long to keep the drive alive, he hauled in a 12-yard pass from Piatkowski to give Drake a 7-6 lead with 4:02 left in the second quarter.
Momentum continued to favor Drake as the half came to a close. After holding Butler to a three-and-out, Drake had favorable field position at midfield. Capped by a seven-yard touchdown rush by Scott, the Bulldogs found themselves with a 14-6 lead at halftime.
Butler narrowed the lead on its first drive of the second half to narrow the lead at 14-13. Lancaster’s pass, intended for Tom Judge, seemed to be broken up by Drake’s secondary, but was deflected into Brendan Shannon’s hands for a 45-yard touchdown. Shannon finished with a game-high 126 receiving yards.
That would be as close as Butler would be for the remainder of the game. The Drake offense matched Butler’s opening drive of the half, with a 10-play, 75-yard drive, highlighted by ’s 29-yard touchdown grab to put his team back up by eight, 21-13, with 6:13 on the clock in the third quarter.
Scott was instrumental on Drake’s final drive in the third quarter, gaining over half of the Bulldogs’ 47-yards on the drive, including picking up the 9-yard touchdown reception to give Drake a two possession lead, 28-13.
After a 32-yard punt return by Mike Ratelle that set up the offense in the red zone, the Bulldogs took five plays before Piatkowski found Scott again for a six-yard touchdown through the air, his second receiving score of the afternoon. This scoring drive put Butler on the ropes, trailing 35-13 with 13:34 remaining in the game.
After Drake scored another touchdown, Butler answered with a 15 play, 75-yard drive that concluded with a touchdown, to make the score 42-20 with 6:46 remaining in the game.
The Bulldogs would score once more, a season-long 36-yard field goal by Cam Bohnert (Edmond, Okla.), to close out scoring with the reserves in the game.
Drake wraps up the season next Saturday at Jacksonville. With a win against the Dolphins, the Bulldogs will clinch a share of a conference championship for the second straight year.
“If the NCAA would let us go tonight, I think we’d turn the lights on and start practicing tonight,” Creighton said of the anticipation of facing Jacksonville with a PFL title on the line. “We are excited. You work so hard for so long and are only guaranteed 11 games. Our conference is special and we have the chance to do something that hasn’t been done for a long time here, so we’re going to be fired up.”
Kickoff for the pivotal game is set for noon, CST.