The Dayton Flyers football team will be back in action for a real game for the first time since Nov. 23, 2019 this Saturday. Photo courtesy of Flyer News.
Peter Burtnett | Sports Editor
NOTE: The game for which this preview was written, Saturday, Sept. 4 against Robert Morris at noon at Welcome Stadium in Dayton, Ohio, has been cancelled.
For the first time in almost two years, the University of Dayton football team will take the field Saturday at noon against Robert Morris.
651 days removed from the last game at Welcome Stadium (51-38 win over Butler Nov. 23, 2019), the Flyers will face the Colonials to open the 2021 season for both teams.
“You always get excited for that first game of the year, it’s just natural,” Flyers head coach Rick Chamberlin said Wednesday. “After all the hard work during the winter, and then camp in the spring and so forth, but this year it is a little more special. It’s (been) some 600 and some days since we played a college football game. So to go against Robert Morris, a longtime opponent, makes it a real exciting Saturday.”
The Flyers and Colonials have faced off 15 times previously, with the Flyers winning 14 times, including a 34-31 win in 2019. Many Flyers return on the defensive end from their last match-up, led by co-captain senior safety Brandon Easterling, and fellow co-captains in senior quarterback Jack Cook and junior running back Jake Chisholm.
One other key returner for the Flyers is redshirt junior Flyer (defensive back) Zach Rumpke, who finished with 66 total tackles, 6 for loss, 3 sacks, and a game-clinching interception in the season-opening win over No. 14 Indiana State.
“We’ve been practicing for almost two years now,” Rumpke said Wednesday. “Roster-wise, I think that everybody, (senior tight end) Andrew (Holderer) mentioned it talking about technique, there’s going to be technique at an all time high. And when the game happens and guys who haven’t been on the field in a while, or at all, step out there and things go differently than planned, I mean, we’ll be able to find out how ready we really are.”
A focus area for the Flyers has been one that Rumpke mentioned: having players step onto the field for the first time. For the Flyers in 2021, the offensive line especially lacks a single start or any meaningful action at the college level. All ten players across the board on the two-deep depth chart are redshirt or true freshmen.
Holderer, who Rumpke referred to, will be a key piece in helping the young offensive line mesh and find their groove, starting with game number one. While the outside-looking in may look unsteady, the senior from Edwardsville, Ill., is confident in the young guys.
“That’s probably the thing I’m most excited about from this past spring,” Holderer said. “And now, those guys have stepped up big-time. They all haven’t taken a single snap yet and I think that it’s going to be huge when they come out (on the field). They’re just fighters, every time they get knocked down or something goes wrong, they’re right back on the ball and ready to go. So I think we’re just going to show what kind of grit we’ve got.”
Scouting Robert Morris
While the Flyers will look to prove their own grit, physicality is the key word for what they expect to see from the Colonials.
“They’re an extremely physical team,” Rumpke said. “On their offense, they have big guys up front, and they like to run the ball. Things we’ve struggled with in the past is our run game, and that’s something that we’re definitely cautious of and something we’ve prepared on a lot, so we’re excited to finally be able to stop the run and to play in all facets of the game.”
On offense, the Colonials scored just 30 points in three spring games (all loses), running the ball for 247 total yards, led by redshirt senior Alijah Jackson with 59 carries for 196 yards and 1 TD. In the passing game, fellow redshirt senior George Martin returns from a season where he went 41-87 for 520 yards, 3 TDs and 2 INTs. Leading receiver, also a redshirt senior, D’Andre Hicks, caught 19 passes for 182 yards and 2 TDs, nearly double the production of since-departed Daevo Robinson (8 catches for 105 yards).
Each starter on their offensive line started in the spring season, and all but right guard Hayden Baron are redshirt juniors or older.
On defense, the physicality and experience also apply, as 9 starters are upperclassmen, with linebacker Jamar Shegog (redshirt sophomore) and strong safety Lorenzo Euline (sophomore) the only exceptions.
The Colonials defense allowed 98 points in just three games, giving up 716 yards on the ground and 498 in the air. Senior middle linebacker Aniello Buzzacco led the team with 39 total tackles.
Although the Colonials played during the spring season, Chamberlin does not believe it will be a big factor in Saturday’s game.
“I would say that teams are going to be ready physically whether they played in the spring or if it’s like us, they didn’t get to play there,” Chamberlin said. “I think just your preparation throughout the summer, gets you ready for the fall. And I know Robert Morris, they’ll be ready and they’ll be on equal par with us. And that’s what we preached to our team, it’s going to take all four quarters, we can’t let up. We’ve got to be in shape, and I really believe we are in shape here to get ready for this first game.”
Kickoff is scheduled for noon Saturday at Welcome Stadium as Flyer football is played for real and in front of fans for the first time since Nov. 23, 2019.