In 336 days the Stetson Hatters football team will take to the field to formally reignite the school’s gridiron history.
On Saturday, a crowd of more than 300 fans packed the berms at the Stetson University Athletic Training Center to get a sneak peek at their team during the fourth scrimmage of the fall.
Among the highlights was a smooth-handed 11-for-13 passing performance from Ryan Tentler (Chicago, Ill.), good for 127 yards and a pair of touchdowns and a 217.45 efficiency rating. The Hatters’ defensive unit continued its trend of being the stronger of the two overall, recording seven sacks, 16 total tackles for loss and a trio of interceptions while holding the offense to 2.5 yards per carry on the ground.
“Defensively, I thought we really came to play,” head coach Roger Hughes said. “I thought our pass rush was lively. We’re flying around. We’re playing faster because we’re starting to understand the scheme.
“Offensively, we’re not consistent enough. The hard part about these scrimmages is that when one side does well, the other side is mad. So Stetson didn’t lose but, when you come off the field, sometimes you feel like you did because not everything went perfect.”
After a pair of drives when the offense picked up a couple of first downs but was stopped short of reaching the red zone and scoring, the attentive Hughes saw shades of that coaching dilemma with the third through fifth drives.
Tentler asserted himself on the offense’s third possession and his second. The five-play, 65-yard scoring march saw a 16-yard completion to Louis Tuszynski (Germantown, Wisc.) and a 21-yard dash by Tentler on an option play before the Chicagoan found wide receiver Chris Crawford (Lauderdale Lakes, Fla.) for an 18-yard touchdown.
The next two possessions, however, were about nothing but the Hatters’ opportunistic defense. The very first play following the touchdown resulted in an interception by Devon Garnett (Dunedin, Fla.) while the next drive saw Stetson’s offense fumble a handoff which linebacker Jake Paine (Naples, Fla.) quickly pounced upon.
Two more defensive highlights came just before the team’s mid-scrimmage break. The first was an interception at the eight-yard line by Trezdun Jackson (Midwest City, Okla.) off of a tipped pass. Two snaps later, with the offense facing a third-and-nine from the nine, the defense picked up a safety when Ryan Powers (Jupiter, Fla.) and Donald Payne (Fayetteville, Ga.) fell on running back Joe Sweeney (Delray Beach, Fla.) in the end zone after an errant shotgun snap.
Stetson’s offense was re-invigorated by a return of Tentler following a half-time break. Working in the two-minute drill, Tentler guided the Hatters’ offense 70 yards in eight plays to pay dirt. The drive was capped by a nine-yard touchdown strike to Rob Coggin (Palm Harbor, Fla.).
Seeing his first action of the day, Travis Palmer (East Grand Rapids, Mich.) also led the offense to a two-minute drill touchdown, completing all three of his passes on the drive for 36 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown toss to Ryan Selimos (Plantation, Fla.). Palmer finished the day 5-for-6 passing for 81 yards and that touchdown.
Stetson’s last score came on the first play from scrimmage of one of its final drives when running back Joey Rizzo (Plantation, Fla.) scampered 50 yards off of the right side for a touchdown.
In addition to Garnett and Jackson, Payne also recorded an interception for the white-clad Hatter defense. Unofficially, Bobby Jakubek (Coconut Creek, Fla.) came up with a pair of Stetson’s seven sacks while also contributing a third TFL. Gian Columbo (Sunny Isles Beach, Fla.) also came away with a pair of TFLs on the day.
Overall, the Hatters gained 129 yards rushing on 51 carries with one touchdown while picking up 323 yards through the air, completing 30-of-56 passes with three touchdowns and three interceptions for a 108.99 efficiency rating.
The head Hatter knows his young team still has a lot of learning ahead of it, but is seeing progress that he likes.
“We’ve got to get more consistent with the quarterback play,” Hughes said. “We’ve just got to get more consistent up front. Part of that is a function of learning and part of that is a function of the fact that our defense is a really aggressive defense. It brings seven and eight guys a lot and there’s not a lot you can do. And, when you do something, you have to really know what you are doing.
“We’re getting there.”
The tangible progress is exciting. The 336 days until 300 fans enjoying a sun-splashed Hatters scrimmage on the practice field becomes thousands of fans cheering as the Hatters run onto Spec Martin Municipal Stadium will pass before anyone knows it.