Steve Valentino ended his career 19-2 as a starting QB.
POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. -- Fans leaving the University of Dayton’s six-point, last-second win over Drake in Dayton last week on Senior Day all agreed the game couldn’t have been more exciting or more emotionally draining.
They were wrong.
The Flyers came from down 10 twice, trailed at halftime for the first time all season and needed two overtimes, but Dayton persevered, edging Marist 41-34 to finish the year 8-0 in the Pioneer Football League. UD tied Jacksonville (JU beat Campbell 31-24 today to also remain perfect) for first in the PFL, and the championship was the Flyer’s 11th (including ties) in the 18-year history of the league.
The outcome wasn’t decided until Dayton cornerback Matt Pfleger picked off Marist quarterback Tommy Reilly at the three-yard-line on second-and-goal in the second overtime. Flyer James Vercammen came on a blitz and pressured Reilly, and Pfleger made a diving catch of Reilly’s throw to the right pylon.
The Red Foxes took a 34-27 lead on their first play in the first overtime, thanks to a 25-yard touchdown pass from Reilly to Chris Ortner. The Flyers answered seven plays later with a 3-yard touchdown run by Taylor Harris, and the score was tied at 34-34 when Nick Glavin’s PAT hit the left upright on its way through. The snap wasn't perfect, the hold wasn't perfect, but the kick was good enough and it was on to a second extra period.
Steve Valentino threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Luke Bellman on Dayton's first play of the second OT to give the Flyers a 41-34 lead. Needing a touchdown to force a third OT, the Red Foxes drove down to the Dayton 11-yard line before Pfleger intercepted Reilly's pass to end the game.
UD found itself down 10-0 after one quarter and twenty seconds, but got on the board on the very next play from scrimmage, when Valentino hit Justin Watkins for a 60-yard bomb nine seconds later. After A.J. Kaltenbach intercepted a Reilly pass, the Flyers drove to the 10, where Glavin hit a 27-yard field goal to the game at 10.
Marist answered with a drive into the red zone of its own, and booted a field goal to take a 13-10 to the locker room at halftime. It was the first time all year UD trailed at the half.
Marist took its second 10-point lead of the game early in the third quarter. On Dayton's first play of the third quarter, Valentino was intercepted by Nick Kaszei and his 23-yard return brought the ball to the Dayton 30. Three consecutive completed passes later, Reilly connected with Greg Whipple out in the flat and Whipple ran it in for on a 14-yard touchdown to put Marist up 20-10.
At this point, Valentino had run six times for 22 yards, and was five of 14 passing for 104 yards with a 60-yard TD and an interception. From here, he willed his way to 62 yards rushing on 12 carries, and completed 11 of 16 passes for 123 yards. And he led the Flyers back to score the next 17 points. UD drove 71 yards in nine plays on the next possession, with Harris bulling in from the one to make the score Marist 20, Dayton 17.
Flyer defensive end Devon Langhorst batted a swing pass in the air and then hauled in his own interception to set up a Glavin field goal that tied the game at 20. UD’s defense then forced its first-three-and-out of the day, setting up an 11-play, 86-yard scoring drive. Valentino took it in from the six, and Dayton had its first lead of the day with 7:12 left.
After another three-and-out stand by the Flyer defense, UD looked to run out the clock. But with 2:35 to play, Harris was stopped just inches short of the first-down marker on a fourth-and-two play by Marist linebacker Kees Coughlin, giving the Red Foxes the ball back at their own 24.
Reilly started the ensuing drive by completing his first three passes. After Marist was the benefactor of a tough pass interference penalty on Pfleger, a 12-yard completion to Joseph DeSimone gave the Red Foxes a first-and-10 at the Dayton 11. After three consecutive incomplete passes, Reilly found Michael Rios for a touchdown pass with 1:04 remaining. The extra point by Jason Myers tied the score at 27.
Dayton was unable to move the ball in the final minute, and a clutch 47-yard punt by Nate Miller to the Marist 12 forced the PFL’s top punt returner, James LaMacchia, to call for a fair catch. After one running play by Marist, the game was headed to overtime.
On the day, Valentino was 16 of 30 for 227 yards passing with two TD’s, and was also the game’s top rusher with 84 yards on 18 carries. Anthony Papp had five catches for 68 yards to lead UD in receiving. Pfleger was also Dayton’s top tackler, with eight stops (seven solo).
The Flyer defense held Marist to just five yards rushing, but Reilly broke Marist’s single-game records for completions (35), pass attempts (51) and yards (417). LaMacchia was his favorite target, catching nine passes for 88 yards.
Dayton finished 10-1 on the year. The 31-man Flyer senior class became the first Dayton Division I class to win at least nine games in each of their four years. They were part of three PFL championships, and those who played their final game finished their careers with a four-year record of 39-7.