By: Daniel Massa – Sports Editor
On a day without running back Connor Kacsor, the Dayton football team willed itself to a 13-12 victory over San Diego at Welcome Stadium.
Kacsor sustained a left knee injury in practice this week.
The Flyers (5-0 and 2-0 in Pioneer Football League play) outscored the Toreros 10-3 in the second half after a 9-3 halftime deficit.
The game started off with a 58-yard drive by San Diego to the Flyers’ 8-yard line, but the Toreros came up empty when Jack Flatau’s 25-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right.
Dayton took over at its own 20-yard line and got one first down before having to punt the ball back away to San Diego, when the Toreros took over on their own 26-yard line.
The Flyers would get it right back, though, when senior cornerback Cameron Stubbs picked off San Diego quarterback Anthony Lawrence as he tried to find a receiver along the sideline at the Torero’s 45-yard line. It was Stubbs’ fifth interception of the season, which puts him among the leaders in the Football Championship Subdivision.
The Dayton offense again struggled to gain much yardage, but gained enough to get within range for senior kicker William Will, who converted a 48-yard field goal for the first points of the game, pushing the Flyers up 3-0 with 5:05 remaining in the first quarter.
San Diego would respond quickly, albeit a little luckily, ultimately mounting a 2:02, 68-yard drive capped by a 42-yard Lawrence touchdown pass to Brian Riley.
The Toreros were set to punt after the Flyers forced what would have been a three-and-out, but Toreros punter Ryan Belden couldn’t handle the snap and ended up finding open space to run 21 yards for a first down. Lawrence found Riley on the very next play, and San Diego botched the extra point on a bad snap, leaving the score at 6-3.
San Diego would add one more field goal before halftime to secure a 9-3 lead going into the break.
The teams each had two unsuccessful drives to start the second half, with the Flyers forcing two Toreros punts, while San Diego forced a punt and intercepted Dayton redshirt first-year quarterback Alex Jeske.
Dayton’s defense would hold its ground and immediately force a three-and-out after Jeske’s interception. The Flyers took over on their own 45-yard line after a personal foul call on San Diego during the punt.
“The defense played very well: [They] came up with some big plays,” Dayton head coach Rick Chamberlin said after the game. “We kept coming at them, kept coming at them.”
The Dayton offense finally broke through on the ensuing possession, with Jeske finding redshirt first-year running back Tucker Yinger on a 55-yard, play-action touchdown pass on the first play of the drive. Will converted the extra point to put the Flyers back on top, 10-9, with four minutes left in the third quarter.
Yinger, along with redshirt first-year Jared Ruffing and redshirt sophomore Jack Adams, helped fill in at running back in Kacsor’s absence. Ruffing started the game in the backfield, Yinger finished with 97 total yards and Adams broke off a couple of first-down runs.
“It emphasizes how strong this team is, mentally and emotionally,” Chamberlin said. “This isn’t the first challenge we’ve had with a player not playing this year. We’ve had a lot of challenges throughout these first five games. But these guys respond so well.”
San Diego once again went three-and-out on its next possession, and the Flyers got the ball back on the Toreros’ 18-yard line after a 29-yard punt return by senior cornerback Christian Searles.
Dayton made its way to San Diego’s six-yard line before the Toreros defense held firm and forced Will to hit a 22-yard field goal, giving the Flyers a four-point lead.
San Diego got back within one on its first full drive of the fourth quarter on a 32-yard Flatau field goal with 6:03 remaining in the game.
The Flyers took over with exactly six minutes left, but San Diego forced a three-and-out. First-year punter Sean Smith pinned the Toreros deep in their own territory with a 74-yard punt, which took a Flyers bounce and was downed at the San Diego 5-yard line with 4:29 left in the game.
The Toreros mounted a threatening, potential game-winning drive that got all the way to the Flyers’ 28-yard line. On 4th and 1, it looked like the Flyers stuffed San Diego’s quarterback sneak attempt. The referees brought out the chains to make sure the ball had not crossed the first-down marker, and Welcome Stadium erupted as the referees signaled for the Flyers to take over possession with 1:17 remaining after confirming that the ball was short.
Jeske, who finished 13-of-30 for 188 yards and one touchdown and one interception apiece, ran out the clock with a couple of kneel-downs, clinching the Flyers’ fifth straight win to start the season.
Redshirt sophomore linebacker Jack Crain led all defenders with 16 total tackles and senior defensive tackle Miles Ashleman recorded two sacks for the Flyers.
Dayton continues PFL play as the team travels to Valparaiso next Saturday to take on the Crusaders at 2 p.m.