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Football Faces In-state Rival Jacksonville
Courtesy: Stetson University  
Release:  11/14/2013
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With the thrill of last week’s Homecoming victory still fresh in their minds, the Stetson football team spent this week preparing for in-state and Pioneer Football League rival Jacksonville. The Hatters and Dolphins clash at 1 p.m., Saturday, at JU’s D.B. Milne Field.

Stetson (2-7 overall, 1-5 PFL) enters Saturday’s game off a 26-13 win over Davidson. The win was not only its first victory since opening weekend, but the program’s first Pioneer Football League victory. Head coach Roger Hughes said the result did more than just make the players and coaches happy.

“Our kids were excited,” he said. “I was very happy for them. I kind of felt like we’d been improving as the year went on but we hadn’t gotten the reward for it. It solidifies that we’re going about it the right way. The kids have another reason to believe in what we’re doing. This week practice has been more business-like. The kids have a bit more pep in their step. There’s a little more fun out there; more smiles. All of that lends itself to confidence and it gave us some confidence we’ve been lacking.”

The Hatters will need all the enthusiasm and confidence they can muster when they square off with the Dolphins (4-6, 3-4). Jacksonville owns the PFL’s top scoring offense, averaging 41.5 points through 10 games. The Dolphins averaged better than 511 yards of offense per game, with 332 of those coming through the air.

Sophomore quarterback Kade Bell, son of JU head coach and former Florida signal caller Kerwin Bell, ranks second in the PFL with 296 yards passing per game, and leads the league with an average of 307.4 yards of total offense per game. He’s thrown for 21 touchdowns despite missing three games following a mid-season appendectomy.

“Offensively it starts with their quarterback,” said Hughes. “He’s a coach’s son; you can see that in how he plays. He isn’t one dimensional, and he doesn’t make many mistakes.”

But Hughes says JU’s size and overall athleticism will present just as many challenges as Bell’s multi-skill set.

“They are very athletic, he said. “Their line is big. Their running backs can make you miss. They have receivers that run well and are big. We’re going to have our work cut out for us. Last week they had 629 yards and lost (45-42 at Mercer).”

On the other side of the ball, JU is equally athletic if not as impressive statistically. The Dolphins allow 35.1 points and 455 yards per game. But Hughes doesn’t think those numbers make them any less imposing.

“Their defensive line is one of the best we’ve faced,” said Hughes. “They’re very aggressive. The linebacking crew is extremely athletic and physical. Their secondary is full of great athletes. We will see a lot of man-to-man coverage.

“Our fullbacks, Darius Chapes and Mike Yonker, have really improved and can account for a lot of offense. We have to make sure we get them the ball. We can’t get ourselves into long yardage situations. Third and long is exactly what they want. When they know you’re going to pass it they come right after you.”

Hughes expressed a hope that, as the only two PFL schools in Florida, this is beginning of a rivalry for years to come. But he also said JU provides a model of what the Hatters hope to become.

“Geographically it’s a natural rivalry,” he said. “Jacksonville has been one of the premiere teams in the PFL. As a newcomer to the league and as a new program you look around and try to see who’s doing it the right way. Who can we emulate? What’s their plan? What’s their model? Clearly JU is one of those teams that we have tried to model ourselves after.

“My hope is that it can develop into a rivalry. I hope our kids get a great sense that this is what we’re going to look like two or three years down the road if we do things right.”

The Hatters enjoyed the most productive game of the year on both sides of the ball against Davidson, setting or tying 12 season highs, including first downs (24), total plays (78), rushing yards (224), passing yards (296) and sacks (4.0). Quarterback Ryan Tentler passed for 296 yards and two touchdowns. He completed 19-of-26 passes to 11 different receivers, statistics that not only pleased Hughes but also surprised him.

“Until somebody mentioned it to me earlier today I wasn’t aware that Ryan spread the ball around so much,” said Hughes. “We don’t set up our offense as ‘You’re going to throw it to him on this play’. I was really excited that Ryan went through his progressions and saw who was open and delivered the ball on time. He threw the ball where (the receivers) could run after the catch. We’ve been placing a big emphasis lately on him putting the ball where the receiver can turn away from the defense and run for extra yards so it was nice to see that.”

Tentler also excelled on the ground, rushing for 108 yards, including an 85-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. That score not only gave Stetson a 16-6 lead but the Hatters gained control of the game.

“The downfield perimeter blocking by the receivers – Chris Crawford had an unbelievable block – made that and 85-yard run. It’s only about a five-yard play without what those guys did on the perimeter. Ryan gets all the accolades for running it, but that’s part of the development we’ve seen. Receivers have taken their downfield blocking much more seriously.”

While Tentler and the offense were piling up the yardage, Stetson’s defense was giving Davidson more than it could handle. The Hatters recorded a season-high four sacks and spent almost as much time in Davidson’s backfield as the Wildcats. Stetson was able to get consistent and deep penetration and Hughes said that was the key to stifling Davidson’s passing game.

“The best pass defense you can have is a great rush,” said Hughes. “The key to killing plays is penetration. Davion Belk was consistently beating the tackle inside, which was fun to see because we’ve had those expectations for him all year long and he just ignited on Saturday. He played the type of game we’ve been looking for him to play.”

Hughes also credited a change in defensive philosophy with Stetson’s effort on Saturday.

“I thought toward the middle of the season we were trying to not give up big plays,” he said. “But what we found is that we’re not developed enough physically to sit in there and go toe-to-toe with other teams. Toward the latter part of the season we started using more movements, more blitzes, and that definitely helps. On Saturday that’s what led to our penetration.

“It doesn’t matter where on the field they’re defending, they defend with the same kind of intensity. When our defense is playing really well it gives our whole team more confidence.”

While Belk and the rest of the defensive line were having their way in the trenches, Donald Payne was his usual self, flying around the field and making one big play after another. Perhaps none of his efforts were quite as important as one that came early in the game.

With no score and Davidson facing fourth-and-goal from the three yard line, Payne knocked away a would-be touchdown pass in the back of the end zone, keeping the game scoreless and preventing Davidson from seizing the momentum.

“It was a huge play,” Hughes said. “Donald’s play all season has been remarkable. He played a super game. He was not only in the back end knocking passes down, but when we brought him off the edge he had two or three sacks and a number of tackles for losses. He’s just so quick off the edge it’s hard for tackles to get out of their stance.”

But as pleased as Hughes was with Payne’s play, he’s even happier with his leadership and presence.

“In the middle of the season all the accolades he received made Donald feel like he had to make every play. Getting him to trust that his teammates were there, that he didn’t have to be everywhere, he made fewer mistakes. He’s even becoming more mature as to how he’s carrying himself on the field. Things don’t rattle him as much. I see him blossoming into more of a leader. Not just with his play but with how he carries himself as well.”

Hughes sees Saturday’s game and the season finale next week at Mercer as an opportunity for Stetson to gain some momentum as they head into their first official off-season.

“A lot of our hay is to be made in the offseason,” said Hughes. “You have a better taste in your mouth and have a better atmosphere if you have success at the end of the year. It’s very important for us as a team to not miss any opportunity to improve.”

Campus Life is sponsoring a FREE trip to the Stetson University versus Jacksonville University football game this weekend! The bus will depart from Stetson at 10am on Saturday November 16th and will not return until after 7pm. For more information email or visit our Facebook page

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