The hype, the emotion and the hoopla are over. Now the Stetson football team has to get down to the business of playing football.
Two years of planning, practice and anticipation went into the Hatters’ 31-3 season-opening victory over Warner last weekend, but Stetson had just five days to get set for their first road game.
Stetson will travel down Interstate 95 on Saturday for a 7 p.m. game against Florida Tech at a sold out Pirate Stadium in Melbourne. It will be the first game for the Panthers, who have traveled the same road the Hatters went down.
Stetson fans will be able to listen to the game on the radio at WSBB AM 1230 and WTJV AM 1490 in Volusia County and on WRSO AM 810 in Orlando. The game will also be video streamed online live through the Florida Tech website, FloridaTechSports.com.
Since the very first day the Hatters arrived on campus in August 2012, the team has had to overcome obstacles. Preparing for the game against Florida Tech has been no different. Because of the weather delay that forced the opener to be completed on Sunday afternoon, the Hatters lost their planned off day on Monday. Instead the team will take Friday off before making the drive down the coast on Saturday afternoon.
Hatters coach Roger Hughes said the change in plans is just another thing for the team to work through. He and the coaching staff tried to send that message during preparation for the game.
“One of the things is that we wanted to be really hard on them this week,” Hughes said. “While we want them to play with confidence, we don't want them to be cocky. We don't want them to just expect good things to happen. We have had a tough week with losing a day.
“They haven't had a day off yet this week, so they are a little sluggish. Practice on Wednesday was not very good. We are giving them the day off on Friday to give them about 72 hours to get their legs under them and get their minds cleared a little bit.”
While he was pleasantly surprised by the results last weekend, Hughes said there are still plenty of areas where the Hatters can improve.
“The hope is that we can eliminate a lot of the mistakes that we had in the first game,” Hughes said. “We had too many offsides penalties, some turnovers, and that kind of stuff. We are going ones-on-ones all week just to simulate the speed because we think this team will be a lot better, much faster and certainly bigger and stronger than the team we played last week. We are trying to get them ready for that.”
Florida Tech is starting its program as a member of the rugged Division II Gulf South Conference. Unlike the Hatters, the Panthers do have up to 36 full athletics scholarships available for players on their team. Stetson plays in the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League.
For the Stetson coaches, the scholarships available at Florida Tech are the least of their concerns. For a second straight week the Hatters will go into a game with no film and little information about the team they will be squaring off with.
“We are having to assimilate all different kinds of lines and fronts to try to anticipate what they will do,” Hughes said. “What I am trying to do is keep a handle on how much we are trying to game-plan for. It is going to be about execution, not about out-scheming them. We’ve tried to prepare our kids for the fact that we won’t know what they are doing for the first couple of series. We will have to prepare to make adjustments. The nice thing is, we have been through this.”
The Hatters’ opening game win was marked by solid play from quarterback Ryan Tentler, kicker James LaGamma and a stingy Stetson defense, led by Donald Payne, who plays a hybrid safety/linebacker position for the Hatters known as the “Dawg” position.
Both LaGamma and Payne were recognized as Players of the Week by the PFL while Payne went a step further by earning national FCS Freshman of the Week honors from The Sports Network.
While the offense was efficient, producing 345 yards of total offense with just one turnover, it was the defensive and special teams effort that set the tone for the game. The Hatters allowed just 193 total yards on defense, scored a touchdown, had two interceptions and three sacks. Special teams also added a touchdown and scored 13 points while winning the field position battle.
“We have to clean up the penalties and we don’t ever want to turn the ball over,” Hughes said. “There were miscues on offense and I wish we had played a little better in the second half. But, by the time the defense and special teams had increased the lead, we were in grind mode and wanted to get the game over with. We have to execute better but, overall, considering it was the first game for this program and with the youth of this team, I thought it went pretty well.”
Hughes said the performance of the defense was the biggest surprise to him.
“I didn’t expect to be able to dominate defensively like we did,” Hughes said. “While I thought we had some good playmakers, I was surprised by the overall play. I was not surprised that Donald Payne played well, but even he was a little bit of surprise against, what I thought was a physically superior team. He dominated a lot of the time.”
Payne finished with eight total tackles, including a sack and three tackles for loss to go with his fumble recovery for a touchdown on the first play following the resumption of play on Sunday. Linebacker Dave Lazear (eight tackles) and defensively lineman Davion Belk (five tackles, two for loss including a sack) were also major contributors. Chris Atkins and Bobby Jakubek both turned in interceptions to end Warner drives.
The key defensive stand in the game, according to Hughes, came on the very first series. It was the only Warner drive that produced points.
“I thought we drew a line in the sand on that first drive,” Hughes said. “They had a first and 10 at our 18 and we stopped them right there for a field goal. I thought that was a big emotional lift for our team. We were able to respond with a field goal of our own to make it even. It was like we both exchanged punches, then we had to settle in to see who wanted to win it.”
The defense got a boost from the special teams which gave Warner bad starting field position all day in addition to scoring a touchdown on a fake field goal and blocking a punt.
“The one area I was really pleased with was our special teams,” Hughes said. “I thought our special teams played very well. They got us a score and gave us great field position. I was really pleased with James LaGamma’s punting, and Eric Fogle as well, because they made sure they had a long field all the time. It was gratifying to see all of the work we put in, especially on special teams, pay off.”
LaGamma pinned three punts inside the Warner 20 in the game, took an option from Nick LaSala to score a touchdown on a fake field goal hit one of his two field goal attempts. Keegan Tanner was able to get a hand on one of Warner’s nine punts, limiting the effort to just 17 yards.
Offensively, Tentler threw for 169 yards, hitting 17-of-24 pass attempts with a pair of touchdown passes to Rob Coggin. He also led the Hatters with 62 yards rushing on seven carries.
Hughes said he would like to see better production from the running backs. Six running backs had carries in the game, combining for 93 yards on 33 carries. Darius Chapes and Jerami Singleton led the way, both rushing for 30 yards on eight carries.
“We need more consistency in the offensive line and we need to be able to run the ball more effectively,” Hughes said. “At times we ran the ball well, but you would rather not have your quarterback taking that many shots. We have to do a better job up front. I thought our protections were ok, but we have to solidify our edge so that Ryan is not having to run around, even though he is pretty good when he is doing that.”
For the Hatters to duplicate their success on Saturday night, they’ll have to find a way to generate emotion on another teams’ home field.
“I don’t think you can recapture the emotion, but you also don’t want to have that emotional letdown,” Hughes said. “Frankly, our fans were like the 12th man in that game and that really motivated us to do well. I don’t think we can ever recapture that because it was just a special weekend, but we need to find a way to play with emotion and play with passion this Saturday.
“They have to understand that we are going into someone else’s house. There are going to be times where it will feel like we are playing against 15, but that doesn’t matter. You can’t let that affect you. Do your job, don’t let them get into your dome and make sure you execute the techniques and fundamentals you have been taught.”