Drake scored touchdowns on its first two possessions Saturday afternoon against Valparaiso and went on to down the Crusaders at Drake Stadium in Des Moines, Iowa, 48-20. The game marked the start of the 2007 Pioneer Football League slate for both teams.
“We played a good football team today and our players were ready for the challenge,” said Crusader head coach Stacy Adams. “The game just didn’t go our way today, but we have to bounce back like all good teams do and start preparing for next week.”
The Bulldogs kicked off the game with a seven-play, 80-yard drive, capped by a 54 yard touchdown run by Scott Phaydavong to give Drake a 7-0 lead just 2:50 into the game. But the Crusaders responded with a scoring drive of their own, going 53 yards over seven plays spanning 3:08, highlighted by a 32-yard pass from Warren Arnold (Mundelein, Ill./Mundelein) to Bret Jaskiw (Caro, Mich./Caro [Central Michigan]). When the drive stalled at the 28-yard line, freshman kicker Dan Van Aartsen (Brookfield, Wis./East) came in and drilled a career-best 45-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 7-3.
Drake put together another quick scoring drive on its next possession, going 57 yards in six plays. Phaydavong ended the drive with his second rushing touchdown of the day, this time from nine yards out to give the Bulldogs a 14-3 edge. Drake’s next possession looked like it would end in points as well, as the Bulldogs got inside the red zone. But Sean Dillon (Oak Lawn, Ill./Mount Carmel) forced Phaydavong to fumble, and David Wright (Merrillville, Ind./Merrillville) pounced on the ball to keep the deficit at 11.
The two teams traded possession before Valpo put together another scoring drive spanning the first two quarters. The Crusaders went 43 yards over 12 plays spanning almost five minutes, and had a first-and-goal on the Drake three-yard line. But the Bulldog defense held from there, and Van Aartsen hit his second field goal of the day to make it a 14-6 ballgame.
That was as close as Valpo would get, as Drake closed out the first half with scores on each of its final four possessions. Derek Retherford threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Travis Hardgraves with 9:46 to play in the half to make it 21-6. Logan Rees added field goals on each of Drake’s next two possessions before Cole Ingle connected with Augustine Agyei on a 28-yard touchdown pass to give the Bulldogs a 34-6 halftime edge.
The Crusaders came out with a purpose in the second half, going 80 yards in 10 plays, all runs, and scoring their first touchdown of the day on a one-yard sneak by Arnold to get back to within 34-13. On the next Drake possession, Luke Kanclerz (Holland Patent, N.Y./Holland Patent) intercepted a pass from Ingle to give Valpo a chance to cut the lead to two touchdowns, but the Brown and Gold could not convert.
Drake got an 80-yard touchdown pass from Retherford to Zach Brower with 13:33 to play in the fourth quarter, but was quickly answered by John Popper (Dublin, Ohio/Coffman), who lined up at quarterback and ran a draw from six yards out for Valpo’s final TD at the 12:43 mark. Drake closed out the scoring on a 19-yard run by Phaydavong with 9:57 left.
The Crusaders were led offensively by Jeff Horton (St. Louis, Mo./Lutheran North), who carried 13 times for 90 yards. Horton led a Crusader rush attack that amassed 326 yards on 58 carries, good for 5.6 yards per rush. Ross Wiemer (Burlington, Wis./Burlington) added 85 yards on 12 carries, while Arnold carried 14 times for 60 yards. Phaydavong carried 22 times for 133 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Bulldogs.
Defensively, Valpo was paced by Ryan Koepke (Fort Wayne, Ind./Homestead), who accumulated 6.5 tackles. Matt Mancl (Neenah, Wis./Neenah) posted five tackles, while Darren Kincaid (Chicago, Ill./LaPorte [Ind.] H.S.) registered a sack.
“We got another solid game on defense from our linebackers,” said Adams. “Offensively, we worked hard on our run game this past week, and our improvement showed in that category.”
Valparaiso (3-2, 0-1 PFL) returns home to kick off a four-game homestand next Saturday, October 6, as the Crusaders host San Diego for the annual Homecoming football game. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. at Brown Field.