Matt Pfleger will start his 30th Flyer football game on Saturday.
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The University of Dayton football team will play its final game of the 2012 season Saturday, when the Flyers travel to Poughkeepsie, New York to renew acquaintances with Marist. Game time on the banks of the Hudson River is 12 noon ET.
Dayton is 5-5 overall and 4-3 in the Pioneer Football League after last week’s 28-13 win over previously unbeaten Drake on UD’s Senior Day. Twenty-seven seniors were honored in pre-game ceremonies on Senior Day.
At halftime, senior slot receiver Robert Strong was named the winner of the 57th annual presentation of the Lt. Andy Zulli Memorial Trophy. The Zulli award is based on character and leadership and is considered the most prestigious in the Flyer football program.
A peek at the Dayton sideline supplied a snapshot of the 2012 campaign for UD. Sixteen upperclassmen were in sweats cheering on their teammates, and 10 of them were starters during the season.
The Flyers are looking to secure their 35th winning season in 36 years as a non-scholarship program.
Marist is 3-5 overall and 2-3 in the PFL with three games to play. After the Red Foxes play Dayton, they travel to Campbell and then play at home against San Diego on Dec. 1 (a game that was postponed from last week in the wake of Superstorm Sandy).
GOOD NEWS WORTH REPEATING
The Flyers entered the season with the second-best winning percentage (.780, 103-29) in FCS football since 2000 AND have produced the most football Academic All-Americans (22) at any level of competition in the same time frame. The top five in winning percentage are Montana (.820), Dayton (.780), Harvard (.773), Appalachian State (.745) and San Diego (.684).
UD has not been shut out in an NCAA-record 407 straight games, the best such active string in all of college football. The last team to shut out UD was Marshall, 9-0, on Oct. 16, 1976.
Dayton leads the series 3-0. The Flyers won last year’s meeting 24-10 on Sept. 17 in Dayton.
SCOUTING the red foxes
Marist hangs its helmet on its defense. Marist leads the PFL in scoring defense (18.0), turnover margin (+8) and red-zone defense (just 53.3%). The Red Foxes have come up with an astonishing seven turnovers in the red zone, more than twice as many as anyone else in the PFL. Backup safety Zach Adler leads the PFL with three interceptions.
Marist also is the best team in the PFL in passing efficiency, led by junior quarterback Chuckie Looney. Looney’s QB rating of 160.5 includes 107 of 179 (.598) passing for 1,731 yards with 13 TD’s and just four interceptions. His favorite target, Mike Rios, has 31 catches and leads the PFL in yardage (849), TD receptions (7) and yards per catch (27.4).
THE MAN AT THE TOP
Head coach Rick Chamberlin guided UD to 34 wins in his first four seasons, going 9-3, 9-2, 10-1 and 6-5 last year. Dayton won a share of PFL championships in two of his first three years, and missed the third by just five points at Jacksonville in the last game of 2008.
MORE THAN HIS FAIR SHARE
Rick Chamberlin has been a part of 333 of UD’s 633 wins – 26 as a player, 268 as an assistant coach, and 39 as a head coach. He has also been a part of 427 of UD’s 1,012 games.
LONG TIME STARTERS
Thirteen Flyers own start totals of 11 or greater. Corners Matt Pfleger and Kyle Sebetic have 29 and 27 starts, respectively. DT Phil DeBoer and OG Owen Elger have 21. DT Zach Weber, QB Will Bardo, C Bill Petraiuolo and S Ben Welsh all have 20. OT Tom Corcoran has 18. WR Branden Johnson has 17. WR Jordan Boykin has 14, and CB/Flyer Howard Savage has 11.
And at the other end are the Flyers who have made their first career starts this year. Seven were in the ISU game: OG Dave Allen, DE Pat Dowd, S Zach Elias, WR Nik Gillum, WR Gary Hunter, Flyer Joe Janasek, WR Robert Strong and LB Sean Sward. Other newbies this year are DT Tim Alber, TE Jordan Elmore, OT Ben Estey, DE Victor Kaczkowski, WR Colin McMannamon, DE Devon Morgan, Flyer Ryan Schwenke, RB Robert Washington and S Nick Weston.
TEAR UP THE TURF, TAYLOR
Redshirt senior co-captain and RB Taylor Harris’ career has ended prematurely due to a neck injury. He was First Team All-PFL and UD’s MVP in 2011. He was named PFL co-Offensive Player of the Week after gaining 106 yards on 19 carries with two TD’s in the Robert Morris win in his last game. He finishes tied for 25th in career scoring at UD (144 points) and his 5.8 career yards-per-carry average is fifth all-time at UD.
Dayton is the only team in the PFL with four players with at least 350 yards rushing this season (only Butler even has two). UD leads the PFL in rushing offense (199.1 yards per game). Running back Dan Jacob leads the Flyers in rushing this season with 566 yards. Connor Kacsor is second (424 yards), has five TD’s and leads the PFL in yards per carry (10.6). QB Will Bardo is third in rushing (382 yards) and has three rushing TD’s. Robert Washington is fourth (376 yards), and also has a team-high six TD’s. The Flyers are also the only PFL team with six 100-yard rushers on the year. Taylor Harris gained 109 yards in six quarters of action before being sidelined and Grant Huckestein has 131.
A different running back was the UD Offensive Player of the Week for four straight weeks earlier in the year. Taylor Harris (106 yds, 2 TD) was named after the Robert Morris win, Dan Jacob for Jacksonville (79 yds), Robert Washington for Butler (63 yds, 1 TD) and Connor Kacsor (135 yds, 2 TD) following the Davidson win. Jacob was also the Player of the Week for the Valparaiso win, after he ran for a career-high 155 yards on 10 carries. His 83-yard TD run tied Harris for the third-longest in UD history and the longest by a UD player at Welcome Stadium.
Redshirt freshman Connor Kacsor is the first Flyer freshman football player to run for 100 yards in a game three times with 135 at Davidson, 106 in the Morehead State win and 124 vs. Valpo. He is only the second freshman to rush for 100 yards in a game at UD. The first was quarterback Kelly Spiker, who ran for 142 yards vs. Morehead State and 157 vs. Butler in back-to-back weeks in the 2000 season. This was Kacsor’s first extended game action in nearly two seasons. He was First Team All-Indiana as a junior, but injured his knee midway through his senior season. Kacsor has five rushing TD’s in the last four games and leads the PFL with a 10.6 yard-per-carry average.
ONE FOR THE BOOKS
UD’s 473 yards rushing in the Valpo win is a PFL single-game record.
WHERE THERE IS A WILL
After beginning the year 58 of 131 (.443), Will Bardo has completed 80 of 151 of his passes (.530) for 921 yards in his last six games. He threw for a career-high 255 yards at Butler, completing 25 of 47 passes. In the Morehead State win, he was 15 of 23 for 214 yards and a career-high three TD’s. He doubled his season’s TD output (3 to 6) in the first half of the MSU win. He took over at quarterback for Dayton as a redshirt freshman in 2011, following two-time PFL Offensive Player of the Year Steve Valentino. A dual threat, he was the top rushing quarterback in the PFL (491 yards, the next closest had 289) and was 10th in the league in rushing. He passed for another 1,206 yards (106 of 229, .463, 13 TD, 6 int) in his first season.
V FOR VOIGT
Backup QB Jake Voigt subbed in early in both the Davidson and Morehead wins, completing nine of 13 passes for 103 yards.
HAND IT TO BRANDEN
Leading receiver Branden Johnson (28 catches for 270 yards, 9.6 avg) is out for the season with an injured shoulder. Johnson was the second-leading Flyer receiver last year (25 catches for a team-high 15.9 yards per catch average). At Illinois State, Johnson caught four passes for 37 yards, including a 17-yard TD. He came back at Duquesne with a then-career-high seven catches for 98 yards. He also had seven catches vs. Jacksonville, for 53 yards. He upped the career high to eight (for 69 yards) at Butler.
SPREAD IT AROUND
Aside from Branden Johnson, the next five Dayton pass catchers have taken turns stepping up. Six of Ross Smith’s 23 were in the Drake win (for 65 yards). Five of Nik Gillum’s 20 catches this season came against Jacksonville (for 50 yards). He was also UD’s top receiver at Davidson, with four catches for 52 yards. Twelve of Robert Strong’s 20 came in three games (four each at Duquesne, Butler and USD). Five of Jordan Boykin’s 13 came vs. JU (for 50 yards). Four of Colin McManamon’s 13 came at Davidson. Four of Gabe Macis’ 10 (59 yds) were at Duquesne. Gary Hunter has six receptions and leads the team in yards per catch (27.0 avg.).
OLD HABITS ARE HARD TO BREAK
Flyer senior Robert Strong moved from defensive back to slot receiver this season, but he was named the winner of the “Hammer Hit” award in the season opener at Illinois State.
PACK YOUR GLOVES, AND YOUR TOUGHNESS
Sixty percent (12 of 20) of Robert Strong’s receptions this season have come on the road, with four each at Duquesne, Butler and San Diego.
The Flyers pulled off a “Hook and Lateral” play worthy of ESPN’s Top Plays (#10 to be exact) in the MSU win. With six seconds left in the first half and the ball on the Morehead 39, Will Bardo hit Ross Smith on a nine-yard curl. Smith lateraled to Rob Washington steaming out of the backfield. Washington took it the remaining 30 yards for a TD, thanks to ankle-breaking cutback at the 10-yard line. It was the second straight week UD scored on the last play of the first half.
IT’S WHAT’S UP FRONT THAT COUNTS
UD returned three starters on the offensive line from a year ago. Center Bill Petraiuolo and OG Owen Elger both started all 11 games in 2011, while OT Tom Corcoran started all nine games he played in last year. Elger and Petraiuolo were UD’s first two Offensive Players of the Week this season. The Flyers are averaging 5.2 yards per carry and lead the PFL in rushing this season.
Senior co-captain and LB Colin Monnier leads UD in hits (84), solo tackles (43) and tackles behind the line (10.5) this season. He had a career-high 14 tackles (with an interception) in the Morehead State win. At Illinois State, Monnier was the game’s top tackler. He had 12 hits, including two in the backfield. He also had 11 tackles vs. Jacksonville with two TFL. He earned UD’s Most Improved Player Award last season. In his first college action after not playing in 2009 or 2010, Monnier played in all 11 games and was second on the team in tackles (64) and tackles for loss (9).
Junior cornerback/dime back Howard Savage has been known for the quality of his hits over the first two years of his career, but now it is also the quantity that he can be happy with. Savage had four weekly “Hammer Hit” awards as a freshman and sophomore. He has one this season. He is third for UD in tackles per game (6.6), and despite only playing in five games, still second in pass breakups (4), and is tied for team honors in interceptions (2). He had 10 tackles (six solo) and a pass break up at ISU. He is out for the season with a fractured ankle.
Flyer cornerbacks Matt Pfleger and Kyle Sebetic have a combined 56 starts between them. Pfleger has 29. He is a three-year starter at cornerback for the Flyers, after beginning his career as a wide receiver. Last year he had 43 hits (seventh on the team), three interceptions (second) and six passes batted away (tied for first) with one fumble recovery and one fumble forced. Sebetic has 27 starts. In 2011, he had 31 solo tackles in nine games, and 40 total in 2011. This season, Sebetic has 44 tackles, with 33 solos and 11 passes broken up (leads team and is 2nd in PFL). At Illinois State, Sebetic had 10 tackles (seven solo) and two passes broken up. At Duquesne, he added nine hits (eight solo) and batted three passes away. In the MSU win, he had eight hits (5 solo) with 2.5 TFL and two passes broken up.
Kyle Sebetic leads FCS football in passes defended (2.00 per game, two interceptions and 14 passes broken up). He had six tackles (with four solos), broke up three passes and intercepted a pass and was named PFL Defensive Player of the Week after the Drake win. He returned his interception on the second play of the second half 32 yards for the touchdown that broke a 7-7 tie and gave the Flyers the lead for good. In the last two games, Sebetic has two interceptions, six passes broken up and 14 tackles.
Senior Joe Janasek plays the hybrid safety/linebacker position known in the Dayton defensive as “Flyer.” A first-year starter, Janasek is second on the team in tackles (57) and third in solo hits (26) and fourth in TFL (5.0). He had a career-high 14 tackles in the Valpo win, and with six of the hits coming on kickoff coverage, he was UD’s defensive and special teams player of the week. He missed the USD and Drake games with an injury.
Here’s the good news: safety Ben Welsh has started every game he has played at a defensive position at UD. Here’s the bad news: Welsh is a redshirt senior, and that total is just 20 games. A starter for the first five games of 2009, injuries (sprained knee, torn achilles and torn pectoral muscle) have limited him to be able to play in 13 of the last 37 games UD has played. In four starts last year, he had 24 tackles, one interception, two pass break ups, one fumble forced, one fumble recovery and a blocked kick. Welsh is back in the starting lineup at safety, with 55 hits this season. He also has 3.5 TFL, a sack and an interception. He earned the Hammer Hit of the Week award two straight weeks (RMU & JU), and was both UD’s Defensive Player of the Week (team-high 6 tackles) and Special Teams Player of the Week (3 punt returns for a 15.0 average) in the Davidson win. He had a 32-yard interception vs. Valpo.
DEAL WITH DUNN
Senior DT Brannon Dunn returned to the lineup in the Morehead State win after missing four games. Dunn came down with appendicitis on the Duquesne trip, and had his appendix removed during the game at Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh. He had three tackles and half of a sack in the Drake win. At Illinois State, Dunn carried the ball for the first time in his career when he made the most of an errant punt snap and ran three yards for a first down on the game’s first possession. He was second on the team and fifth in the PFL in sacks (8) despite only starting seven games in 2011. He had a defensive lineman’s “helmet trick” at Jacksonville, getting a sack, forcing a fumble and recovering the fumble on the same play. Dunn forced three fumbles last season.
Dayton has 20 sacks as a team this season, and nine different Flyer defenders have been credited with them. Pat Dowd leads the team (and is third in the PFL) with 7.5.
PUTTING THE SPECIAL IN SPECIAL TEAMS
Dayton players were named PFL Special Teams Player of the Week two of the first three weeks of the year. Gary Hunter for his 77-yard punt return at Illinois State and punter Kyle Pignatiello for Robert Morris.
Kyle Pignatiello was named PFL Special Teams Player of the Week after the Robert Morris win. He punted eight times for a 39.8 yard-per-punt average in the game. Three of his punts were over 40 yards and four of them were inside the 20. For the year, Pignatiello is averaging 37.4 yards a punt in 61 kicks. Twenty-four of his punts have been inside the 20 (with only three touchbacks), and 19 have been fair caught. Pignatiello averaged 40.8 yards on five punts in the Davidson win, against just three net yards in returns. His career-long 63-yard punt in that game is the longest in the PFL this season.
SPECIAL SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER
Junior Gary Hunter returned to action for MSU after missing the last 10 quarters with a hamstring injury. But he made the most of his return on the opening kickoff, returning it 48 yards. Hunter returned two kickoffs for 92 yards, and caught two passes for 71 yards. He averaged 40.8 yards per touch on his return to the lineup. This season, Hunter is averaging 20.5 yards every time he touches the ball on 18 kickoffs, six receptions, three punt returns and four runs. He gained 140 yards in all-purpose yardage in the season opener at Illinois State, with a 77-yard punt return and a 47-yard pass reception taking up the bulk of it. He was named PFL Special Teams Player of the Week.
HUNTER THE HISTORY MAKER
Gary Hunter is believed to be only the second Flyer football player to have three special teams touchdowns in his career (available statistics are incomplete prior to 1950). Kelvin Kirk (the original Mr. Irrelevant) had three from 1974-77. Hunter had what is believed to be the first kickoff return for a touchdown by a freshman in the history of University of Dayton football when he had an 82-yard scamper against Valparaiso. He has returned a kickoff for a TD in both of his first two seasons at Dayton. The 77-yard punt return was the longest at Dayton since Ryan Wrobleski returned one 86 yards vs. Valparaiso in 2005.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK SCORECARD
Three Times: Kyle Pignatiello, Ben Welch (twice in the same week) ; Twice: Zach Elias, Dan Jacob, Joe Janasek (in the same week), Colin Monnier, Kyle Sebetic, Robert Washington, Once: Austin Alber, Will Bardo, Matt Bianco, Pat Dowd, Owen Elger, Jordan Elmore, Taylor Harris, Gary Hunter, Connor Kacsor, Bill Petraiuolo, Pat Sankovic, Howard Savage, Ross Smith
SCOUTS OF THE WEEK SCORECARD
Five Times: Chris Hagan, Twice: Luke Bonifas, Cory Stuart, Cameron Stubbs, Chuck Zavarella, Tommy Zervas; Once: Miles Ashelman, Ryan Aske, Joe Blume, Joe Bodnar, Matt Brown, Michael Gray, Nick Kaczkowski, Ricky Lawniczak, Michael Scott, Shane Toub, Jimmy Vogel, Spencer Weeks, Luke Welsh, Owen Williams (Note Zervas won four scout team awards in 2011)
PFL PLAYER OF THE WEEK SCORECARD
Gary Hunter (Special Teams, 9/1), Taylor Harris (Offensive, 9/15), Howard Savage (Defensive 9/15), Kyle Pignatiello (Special Teams, 9/15), Kyle Sebetic (Defensive 11/3)
LET’S TALK CAMPBELL TROPHY
Dayton has had at least a semifinalist for the National Football Foundation’s Campbell Trophy, the major award of the NFF’s Scholar-Athlete Award program (the academic Heisman if you will), for seven straight years. This season, center Bill Petraiuolo, a Pre-Med major from Highland Heights, Ohio, earned the honor. Previous Flyer picks were Devon Langhorst (2011), Brandon Wingeier (2010), Sean Heenan (2009), Bart Bergfeld (2008), Brandon Cramer (who was also a finalist in 2007), and Brandon Godsey (2006). Dayton is the only PFL team to even have three straight (Drake has two). Among Division I schools, the Flyers are one of 10 institutions with a semifinalist in the last seven years. The others are Austin Peay, Bucknell, Indiana, Montana, Nebraska, Rutgers, South Dakota State, Texas, and Wisconsin.
The Flyers became the 11th NCAA FCS team (and the first west of the Alleghenies) to win at least 600 games in its football history when UD beat Davidson on October 18, 2008. Here are the 15 members of the club, heading into the 2012 season: Yale (869), Harvard (821), Penn (818), Princeton (786), Fordham (749), Delaware (656), Dartmouth (656), Lafayette (654), Lehigh (650), Dayton (628), North Dakota State (627), Cornell (625), Northern Iowa (620), Colgate (608) and Holy Cross (604). Of the 600 Club members, Dayton has played the fewest seasons (104, nine fewer than Northern Iowa’s 113). UD moved into the Top 10 in 2010. The Flyers’ .641 all-time winning percentage is fourth among the “600 club” and eighth all-time. The top ten going into 2012 consists of Grambling (.706), Yale (.705), Harvard (.676), Florida A&M (.667), Princeton (.663), Tennessee State (.654), Georgia Southern (.645), Dayton (.641), Appalachian State (.640) and Penn (.634).
The Pioneer Football League is in its 20th season. The original (and now the only) Division I strictly need-based football league began with charter members Butler, Dayton, Drake, Evansville, San Diego and Valparaiso. The current 10-team membership will be joined in 2013 by Mercer and Stetson. The Flyers’ 83-26 PFL record is the best in the history of the league. Dayton has won 11 (shared or outright) league championships.
The UD Flyers moved to Welcome Stadium in 1974. The word “Welcome” implies hospitality, but UD has been anything but hospitable to its opponents at home, where it is 205-43-2 (.824). The “Welcome” is not a greeting, but an honor to the late Percival Welcome, longtime AD for the Dayton Public Schools.
Seven current members of the Flyer football team have had relatives who also played for UD, including three players whose fathers played -- Austen Alber (Tim, 1986-88), Matt Dorenkott (Brian, 1976-78) and Kyle Pignatiello (Mike, 1980-82).
LAST TIME OUT -- DAYTON 28, DRAKE MARIST
Dayton celebrated Senior Day by handing Drake its first league loss, knocking off the Bulldogs 28-13. UD held Drake to 260 yards in total offense, well under its average of 422.5, and the ‘Dogs’ 13 points were 16 under their average. Drake came into the game having allowed just 12 sacks in nine games, but UD had four along with five quarterback hurries. The defensive tone was set early when defensive end Pat Dowd sacked Drake QB Mike Piatkowski for a 14-yard loss on Drake’s first play. Dowd had 1.5 sacks on the day. UD held Drake to just 17 yards rushing. Safety Ben Welsh led UD with 11 tackles. Linebacker Colin Monnier added 10 with an interception. Safety Zach Elias had seven hits and forced a fumble, and cornerback Kyle Sebetic had six tackles, four solo hits, three passes broken up and a 32-yard interception return for a touchdown. Offensively, Dan Jacob had 17 carries for 68 yards with two TD’s. Forty-one of those yards came on Dayton’s final drive that protected an eight-point lead by keeping the potent Drake offense off the field for eight minutes and 19 seconds.
When Jon Gruden coached the Tampa Bay Bucs to the Super Bowl championship in 2003, he became the second UD grad to coach a Super Bowl winner. Former UD co-captain and Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Chuck Noll won four as coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Noll started at center and linebacker for the Flyers and graduated in 1953. Gruden played quarterback at Dayton and earned his degree in 1986. UD became only the third school (now there are four) to have two alumni coach Super Bowl winners. The others are San Jose State (Bill Walsh and Dick Vermeil), Arkansas (Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer), and Eastern Illinois (Mike Shanahan and Sean Payton). At the time of their wins, Gruden was the second-youngest coach to win a Super Bowl and Noll was the fifth-youngest. As a matter of fact, UD has ties to 19 Super Bowl rings. In addition to Noll’s four and Gruden’s one, six former members of Dayton coaching staffs own a total of 14 Super Bowl rings between them. They include current Saints QB coach Joe Lombardi (XLIV). Lombardi, an Air Force Academy grad and the grandson of Vince Lombardi, began his coaching career at Dayton. He coached for three seasons on Mike Kelly’s staff while stationed at Wright-Pat AFB.
UD’s annual football awards banquet is Dec. 9. Marist is at Campbell next Saturday.