Courtesy of Dayton Athletics
The University of Dayton football team jumped out to a 21-0 halftime lead and then scored a critical four-quarter touchdown to defeat Robert Morris 28-14 Saturday in the season opener for both teams.
Flyer quarterback Steve Valentino ran for 106 yards and was 19-for-37 passing for 211 yards and two TDâ€™s, but it was what he did after a mistake that was the critical play of the game.
With RMU having scored two unanswered touchdowns to make it a 21-14 game, Colonial safety Michael Landers intercepted Valentinoâ€™s pass near midfield and looked like he was going to tie the game with a pick six down the right sideline. But Valentino ran him down, stood him up and stripped the ball from him where Tyler Hujik recovered the fumble back for the Flyers at their own 19.
UD then drove 81 yards in 10 plays to score a touchdown that would put it back in the driverâ€™s seat. Over the last seven-and-a-half minutes, the Dayton defense allowed just three first downs, and two of them were by penalty.
The Flyers returned just three starters from last seasonâ€™s top-ranked defense in the Pioneer Football League, but the newbies carried the day for UD. Eight Dayton defenders had at least 2.5 tackles in the game, and seven of them were first-time starters. Redshirt sophomore cornerback Matt Pfleger, who was a receiver in 2009, led the way with six tackles (five solo). All-American DB James Vercammen was the lone holder in the group with 4.5 hits, including 2.5 in the backfield. Senior safety A.J. Kaltenbach, who had been Vercammenâ€™s backup, had 2.5 hits and intercepted a pass.
Dayton outgained Robert Morris, who is picked to finish second in the Northeast Conference, 388 to 213, and had 26 first downs while allowing 13.
After UD fumbled the ball away at its own 30 on the first play of the game, the new-look defense was tested early, denying a first down and forcing a field goal attempt that was wide and sort in the swirling winds. The Dayton offense bounced back with a 74-yard drive to open the scoring. Valentinoâ€™s 48-yard run set up Andrew Zapinskiâ€™s two-yard run to make it 7-0 after the first quarter.
A pair of Valentino TD passes in the second quarter sent Dayton to the locker room with a 21-0 lead. With 8:26 left in the half, he hit Justin Watkins for a 24-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-10, capping a 94-yard, 13-play drive. The drive matched UDâ€™s longest scoring drive in seven years (the Flyers also had a 94-yard drive at Drake in 2007). After holding the Colonials to a three-and-out, Dayton scored again as Valentino connected with Nick Collins for a 4-yard TD with 40 seconds before halftime.
RMU got on the board with a 92-yard scoring drive when Jeff Sinclair hit a wide open Anthony Coleman for a 33-yard TD. Three plays later Rolf Bathold took an interception 37 yards to the six. On fourth-and-goal, Sinclair spun in from the one to make it 21-14 less than a minute into the fourth quarter, setting the stage for Valentinoâ€™s game-changing play, UDâ€™s game-clinching drive and a Brian Mack three-yard run to make the final score 28-14.
Mack ran for 60 yards on 12 carries. Watkins caught a career-high nine passes for 95 yards.
Dayton is on the road next week, playing its second straight NEC foe when the Flyers are at Duquesne. Game time is 12 noon.