The Illinois State University football team lived up to its No. 19 ranking after a convincing 56-14 win over the University of Dayton in the season opener for both teams Saturday, Sept. 1.
The Redbirds dominated on both sides of the ball, outgaining the Flyers on offense 510-163, as well as earning 32 first downs to Dayton’s eight. They also controlled the time of possession, holding on to the ball for 37:42.
ISU scored the first 21 points of the game. The Flyers finally got on the board in the second quarter after a 77-yard punt return by junior wide receiver Gary Hunter, the longest punt return for UD since an 86-yard return in 2005. Hunter also accounted for 150 of UD’s 275 all-purpose yards, and was named the Pioneer Football League’s Special Teams Player of the Week.
ISU then went on another run, this time for 28 points, before UD scored its second touchdown of the day. This time it came after an 80-yard drive, ending with a 17-yard pass from redshirt sophomore quarterback Will Bardo to junior wide receiver Branden Johnson. The Redbirds finished, though, with 14 points in the fourth quarter to end the game.
Dayton head coach Rick Chamberlin said that ISU’s overall physicality and skill caused the game to get away.
“They did nothing unexpected, and even with all of our preparation they just beat us with their size and speed, and overall execution,” Chamberlin said.
Senior linebacker Collin Monnier said he thinks the game got away because ISU converted on 11-17 third down conversions.
“We made plays and forced Illinois State in a lot of third down opportunities, but couldn’t convert and get off the field,” Monnier said.
Leading the way on offense for the Flyers was Bardo, who was 7-for-21 passing for 101 yards and one touchdown. Johnson finished with 37 yards receiving on four catches, and Hunter caught one pass for 47 yards. Redshirt senior running back Dan Jacob was the leading rusher, finishing with 30 yards on seven carries.
For the Redbirds, the offense was led by senior quarterback Matt Brown, who was 22-for-34 passing for 192 yards and three touchdowns. Seven of his receivers caught at least one pass, and were led by sophomore wide receiver Lechein Neblett, who caught six passes for 62 yards and two scores.
As for the ground game, senior running back Darrelynn Dunn led the way with 25 carries for 132 yards and three touchdowns.
Defensively, Monnier led the Flyers with 12 tackles, including two for loss, and cornerback’s senior Kyle Sebatic and junior Howard Savage both added 10 tackles. Sebatic also had two pass breakups.
As for the Redbirds on defense, the team combined for five tackles for loss, a forced fumble and
Chamberlin was pleased with the team’s overall effort, saying the Flyers never gave up and had no mental breakdowns. He was also happy with the fact that even though the offense of ISU wore down Dayton’s defense, they still hustled and were never out of position.
As for coming off a tough loss, Monnier said the team still has their heads held high.
“The loss doesn’t change anything; we’re going to go back to work Tuesday, and prepare for another tough game,” he said.
The Flyers next game is against Duquesne University at 12:10 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8 at Arthur J. Rooney Field in Pittsburgh, Pa.