Bell: Opportunity knocks; no excuses
JU's J.J. Laser (8) leads the PFL in scoring with more than seven points a game.
JU's J.J. Laser (8) leads the PFL in scoring with more than seven points a game.
Coach Kerwin Bell understands that when unique opportunities arise you serve yourself well to take advantage. Now, he’s hoping his team understands the concept when it travels to Drake Saturday for a Pioneer Football League showdown with the Bulldogs.

“How many times in life do you get the chance to do something that has never been done?’’ Bell asks. “We have that opportunity.’’

What the Dolphins (6-2, 5-0) haven’t done is ever beat Drake at its home in Des Moines, Iowa, where the Bulldogs have a 4-0 advantage. They also lead the series 8-2. JU won last year’s game 39-34 but as has been its habit the last couple of times against Drake pulled out to a big lead and seeing the Bulldogs come back. Last year, for example, JU led 30-9 at the half.

In Bell’s opinion, this time around the stars may be aligning to accomplish the elusive feat. The Dolphins, the PFL leaders, are coming off a bye week giving them two weeks to prepare. In the past, JU would be coming off a long trip to San Diego before heading to Iowa, this year the San Diego game isn’t for another two weeks.

Even the weather won’t be that bad for the southern players as the forecast calls for temperatures in the low 60s with a brisk wind. Oh, and the wind blew rather hard in Jacksonville this week, apparently so the Dolphins could practice in it.

“There are no excuses,’’ Bell said.

Both teams head into the game with impressive streaks in tow. JU has won a league-record 16 consecutive PFL games and Drake (7-2, 5-1) comes into the game with an eight-game home win streak.

The Bulldogs also are at or near the top in a variety of PFL statistics including total and rushing defense which they lead the league in.

“Any great defense takes away the run game and I expect that’s what they will try to do,’’ Bell said. “We have to establish the passing game.’’

That will fall on to the shoulders of senior quarterback Josh McGregor who is 25th all time in FCS passing yards with 10,345 and tied for seventh in all-time touchdown passes (109). He has thrown 22 TD passes this season and nine in the past two games and has an efficiency rating of 152.3 this season.

His counterpart, Drake quarterback Mike Piatkowski, currently is third in the league in passing and will match up against JU’s top-rated pass defense.

Drake coach Chris Creighton is aware of whom his team is playing, but is looking at the game as an opportunity, too.

"Jacksonville is a very good team,’’ Creighton said. “They were the preseason favorite to win the Pioneer Football League, and they have proved themselves to be the team to beat throughout the season. We feel like we're a good football team too, and we're excited to have the opportunity to play them here with a chance to achieve the goals we set at the beginning of the season."

JU players say they have gotten Bell’s message about being the first to accomplish something and feel up to the task.

“We’re definitely capable of winning up there, we just have to play a full game,’’ offensive lineman Spencer Hodges said. “Drake’s a great team and has always been a great team and we’re looking forward to the challenge. Excited about playing since we’ve been off for a week.’’

Hodges, 6-5, 305, says the expected cooler weather is good for the big players and he doesn’t buy any superstition for playing at Drake Stadium.

“I don’t think there’s a superstition to it,’’ he said. “And if there is, it won’t affect us.’’

Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on WJXL-AM 1010. The Bono’s Barbeque Pregame Show is set for 1:30 p.m.