With an inexperienced offensive line and the first game in 658 days, the Flyers football team beat Eastern Illinois 17-10 Saturday at Welcome Stadium. Photo courtesy of Zach Merz, Flyer News.
Peter Burtnett | Sports Editor
A wait of 658 days came to an end Saturday, as the Dayton Flyers football team faced the Eastern Illinois Panthers at Welcome Stadium.
The first quarter was silent on the offensive ends, with the game remaining scoreless through the first 15 minutes. The all-freshman (or redshirt freshman) offensive line had some issues in the first half, especially several high snaps from true freshman Mason McLaughlin (two of which went over senior quarterback Jack Cook’s head). Offensive line coach Josh Hendershot was able to coach the offensive line through the struggles, and overall, they were able to plug in quickly and provide Cook with the protection and time he needed.
“They were going up against a very athletic defense, up front and all around,” head coach Rick Chamberlin said. “Physically, I thought we could handle them strength-wise, but their speed (was the challenge). They didn’t win every snap, we saw that, but they’ll learn from this, and they played the entire game, so that shows you the type of shape they are in.”
The best chance the Flyers had to score was a 40-yard field goal which was missed by sophomore kicker Sam Webster, which Chamberlin attributed to a “bad snap and a bad hold.”
With 12:12 left in the second quarter, Panthers sophomore kicker Stone Galloway converted a 37-yard field goal attempt to give the visitors a 3-0 lead.
Excitement (or fear) did happen for the Flyers when a second snap went over Cook’s head, sending the quarterback running backwards on third down. The veteran signal-caller grabbed the ball, turned, and fired a punt that was downed inside the 20-yard-line with 4:30 left in the first half.
Other than that, the second half had little offensive imagination or excitement, and the Flyers were in danger of losing their NCAA-best 487-game streak without being shut out.
“Honestly, I was a little nervous during halftime because we missed a field goal,” Cook said. “I thought if we can’t find the end zone here or at least make a field goal, it might be in jeopardy, but I knew we would score some points.”
The halftime message from Chamberlin wasn’t a “rah-rah” speech, Cook said, and the coach told the team they had played “okay” in the first half.
“But we could play better,” Chamberlin said. “I don’t think it was a terrible half for us on offense. And offense is going to be a timing thing, it’s the first time they’ve gone against an athletic defense that fast. It takes a while to get adjusted.”
Chamberlin also said some of the first half issues were due to the poor snaps that “hurt our offensive production.”
Once the second half began, however, the minor adjustments were made and the script flipped. After a methodical drive, junior running back Jake Chisholm emerged wide-open out of the backfield, and Cook found him for an 11-yard touchdown pass. For Chisholm, scoring a touchdown again was “surreal.”
“The last time I was in the end zone in a game was in 2019,” Chisholm said. “It was surreal to turn around and then see the fans, and turn back around and see see my teammates put their hands up (in celebration). It’s a great feeling it really lets you know why you love the game so much.
“That was good that we got the ball there (to start) the second half there,” Chamberlin said. “I was a little surprised that they gave us the wind (after the coin toss), and the ball (to start the second half)… And that was a typical Dayton drive, just eating the clock moving the ball, whether by throwing, by runs, whatever. Moving it down, not big plays, just wearing (their defense) down, which I thought played a big role in the fourth quarter later on.”
Just one play into the Panthers’ next drive, redshirt junior Grant Dyer was involved in the tackle when senior safety Brandon Easterling forced a fumble, which was recovered by the Flyers inside the Panthers’ 40-yard line. The second turnover of the game (spectacular leaping interception by redshirt junior cornerback Logan Tate in the first half) provided the boost the Flyers needed to keep the momentum going.
“I mean, Logan Tate over there (by the Panthers’ bench), he just got up, he does his thing, he’s a freak athlete,” Dyer said. “And then the fumble recovery happened over here (by our bench), I know I chased after the ball, I don’t know if I made that play or not, but that was awesome. I think one of our d-lineman picked it up, and he got the fumble recovery, so that was great.”
The Flyers moved more quickly on this drive, scoring on a 1-yard quarterback keeper by Cook to extend the lead to 14-3 with 4:38 left in the third quarter.
The Flyers held the Panthers on their next drive, and a punt return by Easterling to the Panthers’ 30-yard-line set up the Flyers for an eventual field goal by Webster to give the hosts a 17-3 lead at the end of third quarter.
Holding the 14-point lead, the Flyers were able to keep the Panthers from scoring until 19 seconds remained, and were able to chew off a lot of the clock.
The final score was a 17-10 win for the Flyers, in a defensive showcase to start the 2021 season.
Next up: the Flyers travel to Carbondale, Ill., to face Southern Illinois at 7 p.m. Friday.