The University of Dayton football team dropped its Pioneer Football League opener to Jacksonville University 21-17 on Saturday, Sept. 22, at Welcome Stadium.
The difference in the game was an 85-yard kickoff return by JU senior defensive back Colby Walden off a squib kick, which came with just 1:23 to play. The kickoff return was following a 12-play, 58-yard drive by the Flyers, which was capped off by a five-yard touchdown pass from redshirt sophomore quarterback Will Bardo to redshirt freshman wide receiver Ross Smith.
According to Dayton head coach Rick Chamberlin, the squibbed kick took a large bounce, and landed right in the arms of Walden, who took it back for his second kickoff return touchdown on the year.
Prior to the conclusion to the game, the Flyers and Dolphins had a back and forth game.
UD jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter after redshirt senior kicker Pat Sankovic nailed his first career field goal, a 40-yarder, and Bardo tacked on a five-yard touchdown run.
Then the Dolphins changed the tide of the game after JU junior cornerback Andre Addison returned an interception 43 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead down to three.
With just over three minutes to go in the half, JU redshirt freshman quarterback Kade Bell completed a 22-yard touchdown pass to sophomore tight end Andrew Robustelli to take the 14-10 lead.
However, the Flyers squandered two key opportunities in the fourth quarter of the game. The first was a fumble on the JU 20-yardline with 14:15 remaining, and the second was a turnover on downs on the JU 19-yardline with 7:59 left.
Chamberlin said it was tough on the players to lose such a hard fought game.
“The guys are disappointed,” Chamberlin said. “To fight like we did and to be that close, but we have to realize that this is the first league game, and even though we didn’t win it, we can’t dwell, and we need to be ready for the next game.”
For Bardo, the key to the loss was not being able to put together a complete game.
“We played some great football at times; we just haven’t been able to put it together,” Bardo said. “And to beat teams like that, we have to play a full game as great as you can play it.”
On the offensive side of the ball, UD controlled the game statistically, outgaining the Dolphins 338-252, and earning twice as many first downs (22). Leading the way was Bardo, who finished with 192 yards on 22 of 48 completions, with one touchdown and one interception. Bardo also added 58 yards on the ground, with another score.
With redshirt senior captain running back Taylor Harris out of the game due to injury, senior and redshirt senior running backs Robert Washington and Dan Jacob both added 75 yards rushing.
Now, even with a conference loss in the first PFL game, Bardo is not giving up on the possibility of still winning the title.
“It’s not over,” Bardo said. “Like coach just told us, we’ve won PFL championships before with losses in league play. We have to learn from the good and the bad and just move on.”
As for Chamberlin, he said despite the tough loss, the team can’t dwell on the past.
“This game can’t have an effect, the team knows that,” Chamberlin said. “We made good plays, we just shot ourselves in the foot in the second half. We just have to respond positively and gear up
The Flyers are back on the road for their next game against Butler University on Saturday, Sept. 29, at 1 p.m. at the Butler Bowl in Indianapolis, Ind.