By: Connor Hanson – Staff Writer
It’s not every day you see a two-minute offense that relies heavily on the run. Then again, it’s not every day Dayton secures the Pioneer Football League Championship and a NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoff berth. Dayton came into this game undefeated and exited undefeated, beating Marist 28-21 to celebrate 33 seniors’ last time at Welcome Stadium.
It was all defense to start the game, as Marist was held scoreless and Dayton had a lackluster 110 total yards in the first half. Sophomore cornerback Christian Searles got going right away with a pick-six on the fourth play from scrimmage. It was Searles’ fourth interception of the year and first touchdown of the year.
The defense wasn’t perfect in the first half, but shut the Marist offense down when it had to. Senior cornerback Nolan Harmotto intercepted a deep pass to stop a Marist drive and Jack Crain was able to bully his way through the offensive line and block a would-be 44-yard field goal.
On the offensive side of the ball, Dayton would go into half with a 1-in-8 third down conversion rate and a possession time of just 11:51, six minutes fewer than Marist. However, Dayton was good where it mattered, the red zone. The Flyers scored on both their first-half trips inside the 20, coming out with a field goal and a touchdown.
Senior kicker William Will knocked in a field goal from 37 yards out. Freshman running back Tucker Yinger, who had the hot hand on the day, helped set the field goal up after a 28-yard run.
The other red zone score came from redshirt-sophomore running back Jack Adams, who scampered in from 16 yards out on a fourth-and-one carry in the first minute of the second quarter to give the Flyers a 17-0 lead, which they would take into halftime.
Dayton wouldn’t find the end zone again until there were 53 seconds left in the game, almost a 45-minute drought.
Marist came out for the second half scorching hot, scoring in two plays after a 41-yard punt return that gave Marist a short field to work with.
They would score on the next drive again, this time in five plays. Marist running back, Marcellus Calhoun, who had 156 yards and three touchdowns on the day, rushed in from three yards out for his second score of the day to bring the game to within three, 17-14.
On their ensuing possession, Dayton worked its way to the 21, where it set up for a field goal. This time, Will swung it wide left.
Dayton would get the ball back after a Marist punt and set up for another field goal. Will booted that one through the uprights, extending Dayton’s lead to six.
Halfway through the fourth, Dayton was again closing in on the red zone before senior wide receiver Cory Stuart fumbled the ball running upfield after a catch.
Marist took over and marched down the field before Calhoun once again found the end zone to give the Red Foxes a 21-20 lead.
After what looked like the makings of a blowout in the first half, Dayton found themselves down one to a surging Marist team.
However, Dayton would show everybody in the stadium why it was 9-0. In heroic fashion, the Flyers rallied all the way down the field. Yinger ripped off another big run down to the 5-yard line before redshirt first-year quarterback Alex Jeske kept it on a zone-read and found the end zone. Up five, Dayton would go for two and cash it in, as Jeske floated a pass to redshirt first-year running back Jared Ruffing for the conversion.
With the crowd as rowdy as could be, Dayton’s defense did its part and prevented a Marist last-second touchdown to seal the Flyers’ victory and 12th PFL title, the program’s first since 2010.
“It’s unreal, I can’t even put it into words right now, it’s definitely something special,” Yinger said.
Searles joined Yinger in shock.
“I don’t think it has really hit me yet, but it feels great,” Searles said. “We’ve put in a lot of work to go 10-0, we have had an unbelievable season and we’ve been able to bounce back from being down by handling adversity.”
Both Yinger and Searles had to step up in crunch time, however neither of them, or the team, were fazed by the position they were in.
“We approached it with the mentality that we were going to score, I don’t think anybody else [on the team] had any other idea in their mind,” Yinger said. “It happened and we got the ‘W’.”
Searles and his defensive company had the opportunity every defensive player relishes, to shut out the opposing offense to come out with the win.
“We, as a defense, try to maintain poise, stay calm and just make plays,” Searles said. “We were really confident that we could make a stop and win the game. Everybody was calm and just wanted to finish the job and send the team out on a good note.”
Not a lot of teams are able to grind it out when the game is on the line, but Dayton makes it look like a walk in the park. According to coach Rick Chamberlin, the outside appearance seems to match what he sees from his team.
“I’ve been saying it week after week, it seems like every game is like this,” the eight-year head coach said. “The best part about this team is its poise. They don’t panic. Whether we’re behind, or there isn’t much time on the clock, or we’re in a fourth-down situation, they don’t panic, they just stay within the system and just do what they know they need to do.”
Nothing is sweeter than being undefeated with one game left in the season and having already secured the PFL Championship, but doing that at Welcome Stadium, in front of a screaming crowd, is complete bliss.
“Being home in front of our own crowd and to hear the music and feel the energy, that’s an advantage for us, that helped us win today,” Chamberlin said. “As important as the catches the runs and the tackles were, the home crowd and the energy it gave us was just as important.”
Dayton will face off against Drake at 2 p.m. Saturday to close out its regular season with an opportunity to finish undefeated and to secure sole possession of the PFL title.
Having already clinched the league’s automatic playoff berth, the Flyers will learn their matchup in the NCAA FCS tournament on Sunday.
Photo of redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Jeske crossing the goal line by Multimedia Editor Chris Santucci.
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