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by: David S. Williams
Hatters Host Davidson on Homecoming
Courtesy: Stetson University  
Release:  11/07/2013
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For the first time in nearly 60 years Stetson Football will be at the center of the university’s Homecoming celebration this weekend when the Hatters entertain Pioneer Football League foe Davidson, 3 p.m., Saturday, at Spec Martin Memorial Stadium.

Stetson last enjoyed a football-centered Homecoming in 1956, the final season before the program was discontinued. Current head coach Roger Hughes says he’s anxious for the Hatters to be a part of a celebration many alums have been waiting decades for.

“I can’t wait to see the atmosphere,” said Hughes. “It’s kind of the crescendo of our first season and probably the crescendo of the last three years since the program was reinstated.”

Hughes said that this is more than just a Homecoming game; it’s an event for the entire Stetson and DeLand communities. And he made sure to tell his players what Saturday really means.

“I’ve talked to the team about how this will be the single-most watched event at this university in the last 110 years,” said Hughes. “(The alumni) are not coming back just for Stetson; they’re coming back to watch football. I told them, ‘You guys are the catalyst behind it and you owe those folks the effort and the respect to go out and play your absolute best.’ ”

In order to do that, the Hatters will have to put aside the memory of last week’s heartbreaking loss to Campbell. Stetson surrendered a pair of touchdowns in the final 4:55 in suffering a 19-18 defeat to the Camels.

The Hatters appeared to have the game in hand after Rob Coggin scored on a 61-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Tentler with 5:12 to play, giving Stetson an 18-7 lead. But Campbell took the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown, and after Stetson went three-and-out on its following possession, Campbell marched 68 yards on nine plays for the decisive score with 1:07 remaining.

“The players are a little more resilient than the coaches when it comes to dealing with a loss like that,” Hughes said. “They felt how close they were but maybe they don’t see yet how hard it is to win games. And when you have one you can win, you need to do it.”

It wasn’t all doom-and-gloom for the Hatters, despite the difficult loss. Hughes said he was pleased with several things the Hatters did and with some of the progress the team showed.

“We ran the ball more effectively last week,” he said. “We’re finding out a little bit more about our offensive line and running backs. We’ve spent time this week trying to narrow our focus on the things we do well.”

The defense showed its mettle as well, routinely stopping the Camels throughout the game. Campbell came in averaging better than 30 points per contest and was held 11 points below its season average,

“Defensively we’ve found that a simpler game plan is better,” said Hughes. “We’ve found that our kids play better and are more productive when we move the front. The kids played extremely hard. With the exception of two drives, we shut them down.”

But while Hughes was pleased with the offense and defense, he didn’t like what he saw out of his special teams units.

“Special teams took a step back,” he said. “We didn’t cover our kicks well. The absolute worst thing that could have happened, happened when we allowed that kickoff return for a touchdown. Overall, we’re getting closer to the level we need to be but we need to do it for all four quarters. We can’t have a let-down.”

Davidson (0-9 overall, 0-6 PFL) enters Saturday’s game looking to snap a 10-game losing streak which dates back to the 2012 season. The Wildcats have struggled offensively for most of the season, averaging just 14 points per game. But Davidson comes into the contest having scored a season-high 26 points in last week’s loss to Mercer. In the last three games, the Wildcats have scored a total of 53 points after scoring just 74 points in their first six games.

“Offensively they’re trying to find their identity and they’re getting close to finding it and that’s why you’re seeing better production,” said Hughes. “They always have a few wrinkles in there to keep you on your toes.”

If the Hatters are to be successful on Saturday they’ll need continued strong performances from a pair of players who shined last week. Safety Donald Payne and wide receiver Rob Coggin both enjoyed stellar efforts in defeat.

Payne recorded a season-high 15 total tackles against the Camels, while also recovering a fumble and breaking up a pass.

“He’s our playmaker on defense,” said Hughes. “He’s great at coming off the edge and putting pressure on the quarterback, and he’s dynamic in the backfield. Our defense plays and feeds off his performance. Other guys try to match what he does. He’s our best player on defense and the one that ignites us.”

Coggin shook off his recent struggles and tied a season-high with six receptions for 113 yards, a season best. He also hauled in what appeared to be a game-changing 61-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Tentler late in the fourth quarter.

“I was glad to see Rob have a performance like he did,” said Hughes. “His play lately had been a little bit inconsistent. We expect a lot out of him. He’s had issues dropping balls and his blocking on the perimeter has not been as good as we wanted it. But last week he did a lot better in those areas. When you have a game like he had and have an explosive play it generates more confidence.”

Payne and Coggin weren’t the only Hatters to shine last weekend. Defensive lineman Davion Belk had 11 tackles, including a sack. Zach Dyer added seven tackles and Adam Vinson recorded a safety when he tackled a Campbell running back in the end zone in the first quarter.

On offense, Tentler passed for 220 yards and rushed for 33 more, and Darius McGriff tied a season-high with five receptions and set a season-high with 71 yards receiving.

This is the final home game for the Hatters. Stetson closes out the season when they visit Jacksonville (Nov. 16) and Mercer (Nov. 23).

Stetson Football