By: Daniel Massa – Sports Editor
For the second straight week, the Dayton Flyers will host a NCAA tournament game.
After the men’s soccer team hosted and defeated Oakland in the first round of the NCAA Men’s Soccer Tournament Nov. 19, the Dayton football team was announced Nov. 22 as a host for the first round of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs. The Flyers will host Western Illinois 12 p.m. Saturday at Welcome Stadium.
The Flyers, who finished the season 10-1 and 7-1 in the Pioneer Football League, clinched the PFL title and secured their spot in the 24-team NCAA tournament.
The Western Illinois Leathernecks (6-5, 5-3 Missouri Valley) earned an at-large bid and are back in the tournament for the first time since 2010.
The Missouri Valley Football Conference has five teams representing it in this year’s tournament, including national seeds Illinois State and North Dakota State, with Northern Iowa and South Dakota State joining WIU.
WIU played all four of its fellow MVFC tournament teams throughout the season, going 2-2 in those matchups. They defeated Northern Iowa and South Dakota State and lost to Illinois State and North Dakota State.
Dayton is making its first-ever appearance in the NCAA FCS. Considering redshirt senior Connor Kacsor – the program’s all-time leading rusher –tore his ACL in practice after the fourth game of the season, that feat carries even more weight.
A stable of would-be backups have stepped up since to take Kacsor’s place in the backfield.
Redshirt freshmen Jared Ruffing and Tucker Yinger, as well as redshirt sophomore Jack Adams and senior Owen Williams, have all gotten carries since Kacsor’s injury.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Jeske began the season in the backup spot, but entered the opening game against Robert Morris in the second quarter and helped lead them to a 27-24 victory. He’s held on to the starting job ever since, showing a mix of throwing from the pocket and the ability to run.
The Dayton defense has been solid all year and is 16th in the FCS in scoring defense, giving up an average of 18.6 points per game.
Senior cornerback Cameron Stubbs is tied for fifth in the nation in interceptions, with six on the season.
The winner of Saturday’s game faces the No. 2 national seed, Illinois State, on Dec. 5.
Photo of senior Robert Delaney embracing his teammate after the championship by Multimedia Editor Chris Santucci.