LAKELAND, Fla. – After a sluggish opening quarter to the 2014 season, the Stetson Hatters came to life in the second quarter, scoring 25 unanswered points en route to a 35-16 season-opening victory over Warner in front of 1,213 fans at Lakeland Christian School.
It was special teams that set the stage for much of the Stetson offensive success. The Hatters blocked two punts in the first half and forced another punt that covered just seven yards. Stetson also blocked a PAT kick in the second half.
The only negative on special teams was allowing a 90-yard kickoff return to Warner in the third quarter.
“We take a lot of time and a lot of pride in special teams,” Hatters head coach Roger Hughes said. “Until we get all of the pieces put into place, our special teams are going to have to give us some short fields and create some big plays. If you block a punt, you are about 89 percent likely to win the game. We blocked two and got a piece of another one. Those are the things we emphasize. It was gratifying to see that work pay off.”
“Coach (Charles) Huff has been on us all week about getting in there and getting a block,” Payne said. “Everyone came off hard. I was on the outside and just scooped it up and, like we practice, I scooped and scored.”
Warner answered with 10 straight points to end the first quarter – a seven-play, 73-yard, drive was capped by a 12-yard scoring run from quarterback Darrin Davis and a seven-play, 23-yard, drive that resulted in a 37-yard Brian Abrams field goal – before the Hatters went on a run.
First Ryan Tentler connected with Chris Crawford on a perfectly thrown 19-yard scoring strike to put Stetson on top 14-10. Three minutes later, Tentler capped a short 31-yard drive following the short punt with a 22-yard TD run. Ryan Selimos ran in the conversion for a 22-10 lead.
“When we scored we got too hyped up like we were just too good,” Tentler said. “It was good that they drove down and scored. We were mad about the deflection and the pick, but I told everyone to calm down, stay poised, and do their job.”
Cole Mazza got into the scoring act with a 1-yard TD plunge with 4:44 left in the half to cap an 11-play drive covering 73 yards.
The final points of the half came after the second blocked punt, this one by Ryan Powers. Despite penalties that threatened to thwart the scoring chance, Grant Amick hammered a knuckeball field goal through the uprights from a school-record 48 yards out to give the Hatters a 32-10 lead at intermission.
The second half, however, did not play out like the first. The Hatters got a short field goal from Amick midway through the third quarter, and Warner responded by returning the kickoff for a touchdown. That was all the scoring for the night.
“It is our first road win in the history of the program, so I am happy,” Hughes said. “But, we didn’t score a touchdown after halftime. I thought we got complacent in the third quarter and made too many mistakes that stoped drives that could have put this thing away earlier. Frankly, we have to find a killer instinct in the third quarter.”
Overall, the Hatters accumulated 337 yards of total offense with 189 yards on the ground and 148 through the air. Tentler completed 13-of-20 attempts and had the one TD pass to Crawford. Tentler also was the leading rusher in the game, finishing with 75 yards on just seven carries.
The Stetson defense held Warner to 185 total yards. Davis accounted for much of that, throwing for 91 and running for 58.
The Hatters will play their home opener next Saturday night against Florida Tech at Spec Martin Stadium. Stetson let a game against the Panthers get away last year in Palm Bay, and hope to make amends for that loss.
“We have rivalries with JU and Mercer, but Florida Tech is a big game for us,” Tentler said. “We have them back at home this year and we want to send a message. We felt like we let that game slip away last year because we didn’t play as well as we should have. We are a lot more mature now, and I think we will play a lot better.”