The Dayton Flyers defense will face a unique opponent Saturday: the Blue Hose almost never punt, always go for two, and scored 152 points in their first two games before being shut out in their last game. Photo courtesy of Zach Merz, Flyer News.
Peter Burtnett | Sports Editor
On the heels of a 55-3 loss on the road to Southern Illinois, the Dayton Flyers football team returns to Welcome Stadium to open conference play and face Presbyterian on Saturday at 1 p.m. during Family Weekend.
Much of the focus for this year’s Pioneer Football League opener for both teams is aimed at the unique playcalling and coaching decisions of Blue Hose head coach Kevin Kelley. Known for never punting and attempting onside kicks, Flyers head coach Rick Chamberlin said his team needs to play like they normally do, but understand the differences the Blue Hose bring to the field.
“There’s a little extra that you’ve got to concentrate on when it comes to onside kicks instead of kicking it down the field or punting,” Chamberlin said. “They really don’t punt, they go for it on a lot of fourth down situations. Two-point plays, they go for two all the time. So it’s a little more preparation, but nothing different.
“It’s his style, it’s his philosophy. He’s done it for a long time, he did it in high school. He’s been very successful with it. It wouldn’t fit Rick Chamberlain’s philosophy, but I’m not him, and he likes it, his players like it, and so you go with what works best for your program.”
For Chamberlin’s players, like freshman slot receiver Tyler Mintz, the same principles of preparation apply.
“I’d have to say watching film and really getting to know your opponent is going to be the key to success this week,” Mintz said. “Obviously having the full preparation. Every week is going to be necessary but obviously with this new style of offense, we’re gonna have to take an extra deep look into it, make sure that we’re prepared.”
Mintz and the rest of the offense will go up against a Blue Hose defense which allowed 72 points against Campbell, and which averages 359.3 total yards per game allowed.
However, after back-to-back games with scoreless first halves, Chamberlin said the Flyers offense needs to get off to a better start.
“We haven’t got started very well in the first two games, so it will be important for us to get going. I think we’re confident in what we’re doing, we just haven’t shown it right from the start, and (scoring early) would be a big help to us.”
Defensively, regardless of the unique playcalling, the Flyers come up against a team that scored 152 points combined in their first two games, but were shut out by Campbell last Saturday. Led by redshirt sophomore quarterback Ren Hefley, who threw a tied-FCS-record 10 TDs in their opening win over St. Andrews and has 1,027 yards passing through three games, the Blue Hose offense can certainly score. Sophomore receiver Matthew Rivera leads with 17 receptions for 324 yards and 3 TDs, but Hafley spreads the ball around, with five receivers (including Rivera) that have caught double-digit passes.
Flyers redshirt junior cornerback Sam Broom, who has stepped in after an undisclosed leg injury to senior corner A.J. Watson in the opener against Eastern Illinois, said the Blue Hose are “still going to be a pretty good team.”
“We look on film, they definitely have guys who can make plays, so we’ve got to approach it like we do every single week. We can’t let the past games influence how we go to practice.”
The main objective for the Flyers, as with any football team, will be to win the game, but it is also a special weekend for the Flyers. First, it’s Family Weekend, which is special not only for UD football but for the university as a whole.
“It’s family weekend which means it’ll be a big crowd,” Chamberlin said. “It’s always our biggest crowd, there’s a lot of energy in the parking lot and in the stadium.”
With a specific college football Mental Health Day of Acknowledgment on a week when the Flyers are away, the team will also recognize mental health awareness.
“We’re going to do it this week and players will have stickers promoting mental health, plus a video will be shown during the game, just telling people there’s help for you.”
Finally, the Flyers will also recognize the 2020 seniors, who “never got their senior day.”
“We’re bringing them back, we’ve invited them back to be recognized at halftime, to just show our appreciation to all that they did for us. And with COVID, we didn’t get to do that out on the football field, so we got guys coming from Ohio State’s medical college, Wayne State Medical College, University of Washington at St Louis Law School, couple guys work in in in different areas of the country, so it’d be real neat to have them back.”
With all that surrounds the game, specifically Family Weekend, and with decades of experience, Chamberlin said the players often play with more “juice.”
“Because whatever energy is in the stands, that transfers over to the football field, to the players, and it will (this Saturday). I always look forward to Family Weekend because of the big crowd and the noise and all the excitement that’s going on out there because it will pump up our players.”
Kickoff is scheduled for Saturday at 1 p.m. as the Flyers look to celebrate a special weekend and rebound from their worst loss in 100 years.