Stetson football fans waited 57 years for the return of Hatters football, so an extra 19 hours wasn’t so tough.
The Hatters’ Donald Payne made that extra wait time worth it, setting the tone for the Stetson’s 31-3 victory over Warner on Sunday afternoon at Spec Martin Memorial Stadium.
Stetson took a 10-3 lead on Saturday night on the strength of a Ryan Tentler touchdown pass to Rob Coggin with 12:35 to play in the first half. After the extra point, the teams were cleared from the field, and the fans were evacuated from the stands as a heavy thunderstorm rolled into DeLand.
The result was a more than 19 hour intermission. When the game resumed on Sunday, Payne breathed immediate life into the returning crown on the very first play from scrimmage when he recovered a high snap by Warner center Travis Espich in the end zone for a touchdown.
The elapsed time on the game clock between the two Stetson touchdowns was just 14 seconds.
“We have been rain delayed before, so we knew what we needed to do to get the momentum going again,” Payne said. “We came back with high emotion and adrenalin pumping and played ball.”
Payne wasn’t done after the touchdown. The Lawrenceville, Ga., native completely destroyed any hope Warner had of responding on the next series with a bone-rattling hit on Royals quarterback Andrew Ronriguez and a tackle in the backfield to force a punt.
Hatters coach Roger Hughes said it was amazing to him that things worked out the way they did on Sunday.
“We have been presented with circumstances that prepared us for this,” Hughes said of the weather interruption of the game. “Wednesday night we were down here and the field was soft and we moved everything back to the ATC within like 20 minutes and resumed practice. It went very well. I told the boys last night that I am the smartest coach in America because we did this on Wednesday night.”
For Payne and the Hatters, the results on Sunday sent a message that they didn’t believe the things they were told during preseason.
“We were picked to be the worst team in the FCS, and that hurt a lot of us,” Payne said. “It gave us a boost to our spirit and I knew we could come out and do something special. We wanted to put Stetson on the map, and with this game we did that.”
But the Hatter captain said he and his teammates would not be satisfied.
“We have to come back next week with the same energy and enthusiasm,” Payne said. “We want to make sure everyone knows that Stetson football is back and we want to make an impact.”
When you are playing the first game in 57 years, there are going to be a lot of firsts. Here is a list of some of the major firsts, in chronological order.
- First coin toss: Won by Stetson. The Hatters deferred to the second half.
- First kickoff: By James LaGamma. His 51-yard kick went out of bounds resulting in ...
- First penalty: For a kickoff out of bounds. The Hatters were flagged on first four plays of the game (one was declined), but finished with just nine total penalties for 80 yards.
- First tackle: Glenn Adesoji ran down Warner receiver Vernnis Jenkins after Rodriguez connected with him for a 42 yard gain. The play was the longest gain of the game for the Royals and accounted for 21.7 percent of their entire offensive production. The long gain led to ...
- First points allowed: The Royals managed just two yards on the next three plays and settled for a 27-yard field goal by Connor Killeen. Warner threatened to score just once more, later in the quarter.
- First pass and completion: After Warner’s kickoff went for a touchback, Ryan Tentler went to work. He completed his first pass to Devon Garnett for a nine-yard gain.
- First rush: Tentler followed his first pass with a run for 30 yards to the Warner 36 giving Stetson its ...
- First 1st down: The Hatters finished the game 16 first downs to 14 for Warner.
- First points: After another Tentler rush for 10 yards, the Hatters bogged down and settled for a 34-yard field goal by James LaGamma with 10:53 left in the first quarter.
- First interception: Warner looked as if it would drive right down the field against the Stetson defense, putting together a 14-play drive that led to a first down at the Hatters’ 16 yard line. The drive ended, however, when Chris Atkins picked off a Rodriguez pass in the end zone, ending the last scoring threat of the game for the Royals.
- First punt: Tentler quickly moved the Hatters to midfield, but Stetson’s next drive stalled there, bringing in LaGamma, who pinned the Royals at their own six yard line with a 39 yard pooch punt.
- First sack: The Royals found the going a little tougher thanks to Billy Walsh, who stopped Rodriguez on a scramble for a one-yard loss for the first sack and tackle for loss.
- First touchdown pass: Tentler led the Hatters on a quick six-play drive after a poor punt by Warner left Stetson with outstanding field position at the Royals 35. Tentler rolled to his right, hitting Rob Coggin for a 7-yard scoring strike. LaGamma tacked on the first PAT for the Hatters just in time because ...
- First weather delay: Lighting forced the teams from the field at 7:41 p.m. and, after a more than two hour wait during which there was heavy rain, wind and vivid flashes of lightning, the game was suspended until 3 p.m. on Sunday.
- First fumble recovery/defensive touchdown: Payne landed on the errant snap, giving the Hatters a second touchdown in 14 seconds on the clock and a huge momentum boost.
- First blocked punt: After the teams exchanged punts on the next two possessions, Stetson forced another Warner punt and Keegan Tanner was able to get a hand on the ball, resulting in just 17 yards.
- First trick play: With time running out in the first half, the Hatters faced a fourth and goal at the Warner eight. LaGamma went in to attempt a short field goal, but he and holder Nick LaSala saw an opportunity. With approval from the sideline, LaSala ran a perfect option, pitching to LaGamma, who crashed in for a touchdown. It was the first touchdown for the Stetson kicker in any level of football.
- First turnover: The Hatters didn’t have a great start in the third quarter when Chris Crawford fumbled after catching a pass from Tentler. B.J. Jenkins recovered for the Royals, ending a Stetson scoring chance.
- The firsts were pretty much over after that. The Hatters added another touchdown on a second Tentler to Coggin pass play, this one covering 32 yards late in the third quarter. Stetson used a lot of players in the fourth quarter and failed to score in a quarter for the first time. There was one more first as the game clock wound down.
- First ice bath: Hatters coach Roger Hughes was doused with icy water by his players in celebration of the first Stetson victory in 57 years. Before Sunday, Stetson’s last victory on the gridiron was a 64-0 victory over the University of Havana at the end of the 1956 season.