The tone was set in Saturday’s Pioneer Football League game between Dayton and host Stetson in the first 17 seconds.
That was how long it took for the Hatters (1-5, 0-3) to receive the opening kickoff at Spec Martin Memorial Stadium, fumble on the first play of the game, and for Dayton (4-2, 2-1) to score on its first offensive play.
The rest of the opening quarter followed a similar script, with the Hatters finding little success on the offensive side of the ball, and the Flyers scoring in a matter of seconds after getting their hands on it. With little exception, that would be the case of the rest of the half as Dayton built a big lead and then coasted to a 49-20 victory.
“The first two plays is certainly not how we had it figured to start out, getting a fumble, and then giving up a play on a long run where we didn't get in our gaps on our stunt,” Hatters coach Roger Hughes said. “Even with that done, we have to find ways to bounce back. Not every game is going to go perfectly and you have to find a way to weather the run by the other team, and then put your game plan together and get going. We did not do that.”
In the first quarter alone, Stetson managed just 36 total yards and two first downs, while Dayton needed just 15 plays to produce 242 yards and four touchdowns while using just 5:17 off the clock. Just 49 seconds into the second quarter the Flyers added another score, putting Stetson in a 35-0 hole.
Hughes said the early defensive play was especially disheartening.
“I work on the offensive side during the game, and when I came back from making adjustments with the receivers, they were scoring every time,” Hughes said. “Honestly I did not see the first four series on defense at all. Clearly it is not the type of defense we wanted to play. We were not able to stop the run.I don't know what that was, I will have to go back and look at the film. Frankly it was a little disheartening to stand up and it was time for a kickoff return again.”
At that point, the Hatters showed some life. The Stetson defense had three consecutive possessions where they stopped the Flyers, twice forcing punts and, in between, getting an interception by Chris Atkins to set Stetson up at the Dayton 40 yard line.
With Jonathan Jerozal in at quarterback in the second quarter, the Hatters needed just four plays, highlighted by a Jerozal pass to Mike Yonker for 18 yards to the Dayton 6. Jerozal then did the rest himself, running in for a touchdown with 5:55 left in the half.
Atkins said that in those first crucial minutes of the game the Hatters were playing flat, emotionally.
“We just were not clicking,” Atkins said. “Offense and defense were not clicking. We came into the game with no emotion. It just felt weird. Nothing was clicking. The plays we were running in practice to perfection were not clicking. Defensively and offensively, it was just a struggle for the first 10 minutes of the game.
“It was a team thing. It is something that is unexplainable. The first 10 minutes of the game, we were trying to get the energy but it wasn't coming. Everyone was just flat.”
Stetson had a chance to end the half on a high, having moved into Dayton territory before Jerozal’s pass over the middle was deflected and intercepted by Ryan Schwenke, who returned the pick 28 yards to the Hatters 30.
The Flyers’ quick strike offense went back to work there, needing just 21 seconds to cover the 30 yards, the final 17 on the second TD run of the half by defending PFL Offensive Player of the Week Connor Kacsor with 24 second left until halftime.
“I asked the coaches at halftime whether to flip out or stay positive, and one one of the coaches said don't forget they are all freshmen,” Hughes said. “I always forget they are all freshmen. We are half way through the season now and we shouldn't be making all the mistakes.”
After Dayton extended its lead to 49-7 late in the third with short TD drive that was set up by a long punt return into Stetson territory, the Hatters kept fighting. It was the Stetson defense that especially stepped up, holding the Flyers to just 109 yards of total offense, and that one score, after intermission.
“I am pleased with the fact that our kids didn't give up,” Hughes said. “I am pleased with the fact that we hung in there and hung in there, and finally we got a break offensively. I am not so sure that Dayton did not lose a little focus when the game was out of hand, so I don't have any illusions that we were going against their first team, but by that standpoint I was proud of the effort.”
The Hatters were able to convert a big play of their own midway through the final stanza when Tentler connected with Mike Yonker for a 58-yard gain. On the next play, the Chicago native found Devon Garnett for an 11-yard TD strike.
Stetson’s defense forced a Dayton punt on the next possession used another big play to find the end zone. Tentler through a swing pass to Jerami Singleton, who then raced 59 for a touchdown. That marked the longest play of the year for the Hatters.
Statistically, the Hatters finish with 308 yards of total offense, including 213 passing yards. Tentler completed 11-of-18 passes for 173 yards and two scores while Jerozal completed 4-of-12 for 40 yards with a pair of interceptions. The two quarterbacks were also the leading rushers for Stetson, with Tentler gaining 33 yards on eight carries while Jerozal gained 29 on six, including a touchdown.
Kacsor led Dayton’s 261 yard ground attack with 128 yards on 22 carries and he scored three of the Flyers’ six rushing touchdowns. Rob Washington rushed for 61 yards on just four carries and scored twice while quarterback Will Bardo carried the ball eight times for 41 yards and a score.
Bardo passed for 164 yards, completing 7-of-13 attempts with one touchdown and one interception.
On defense, Ryan Powers was the leading tackler in the game, recording eight stops for the Hatters while also being credited for a pass breakup. Chris Beaschler led Dayton with seven stops.
The Hatters will now enjoy an off week from varsity competition, but will fill the time with a pair of junior varsity games. Those JV games will be played at the Athletics Training Center each of the next two Monday’s, first against Webber International on October 14 at 5 p.m. and then against Jacksonville on Oct. 21 and 5:30 p.m.
The Stetson varsity will return to action on Oct. 26 when the Hatters travel north to face the Red Foxes of Marist in Poughkeepsie, NY.