Courtesy of Dayton Athletics
DAYTON, Ohio - The University Dayton opened the Pioneer Football League season Saturday with a 34-28 win over Morehead State. Dayton, who tied Butler for first place in the league in 2009, jumped out to a 24-0 halftime lead and sandwiched a long TD in fourth quarter amongst three scores of 35 yards or more by MSU to gain the win.
UD gained an early lead of 7-0 over Morehead State off of a one-yard run sneak by quarterback Steve Valentino on the gameâ€™s first possession. Early in the second period, Nick Glavin made a 24-yard field goal after Daytonâ€™s longest drive of the day (77 yards, 5:11 time of possession) to bring the score to 10-0.
After an exchange of punts, UD defensive end Brandon Wingeier stripped Morehead QB Zach Lewis of the ball and Flyer co-captain Joe Ries swooped in from his linebacker position to recover the fumble on the MSU 11-yard line. Two plays later, Brian Mack barreled in from the one make the score 17-0. Just before halftime, Dan Jacob made it 24-0 with a 12-yard run.
The Eagles got on the board with 8:31 left in the third, when Andre Williams hauled in a 66-yard pass from quarterback Zach Lewis. UDâ€™s first possession of the fourth quarter resulted in a 33-yard field goal by Glavin made a 33-yard field goal to make the score 27-7. Williams cut into Daytonâ€™s 20-point lead with a 35-yard TD reception from Lewis with 11:22 left in the fourth.
Dayton answered with a long strike of its own as Luke Bellman scored off of a 50-yard pass Valentino in the middle of the fourth, brining the score to 34-14. Two plays later, MSUâ€™s Desmond Cox took a screen pass and turned it into a 69-yard TD to make it 34-21. Morehead State forced Flyer punts on back-to-back series, setting up a three-play, 57-yard drive that ended when Lewis hit Donte Sawyer on a 41-yard TD to make the score 34-28 with 4:12 to go.
Up to that point, UDâ€™s freshman kick returner, Garr Hunter, had been hold mostly in check, but he stepped up with a 47-yard return, giving the Dayton offense its best field position of the fourth quarter at the MSU 47. After being held to two straight three-and-outs, the Flyer offense also stepped up by keeping the ball the remaining 4:04 of the game. The critical play of the victory-preserving possession was an 11-yard Valentino pass to Anthony Papp on a third-and-10 to the MSY 36.
Valentino was the gameâ€™s leading rusher with 81 yards on 20 carries with a TD. He also passed for a score and 243 yards on 18-for 37 passing. Bellman caught four of those passes for 92 yards and the TD. Nick Collins also came down with four receptions for 33 yards.
The Dayton defense held Morehead just two yards rushing. Wingeier led the way, with half of his five tackles in the Eagle backfield. He had three solo hits, 1.5 sacks and the forced fumble. At the other end, Devon Langhorst was UDâ€™s top tackler with seven stops. James Vercammen, Mike Morante, Chase Walton and Ries also each added five tackles.
Vercammen led with four solo tackles, and Ries had the fumble recovery. Cornerback Matt Pfleger had his second interception of the season. Defensive tackle Brannon Dunnâ€™s first career tackle was a sack. After having four sacks in the first two games of the season, UD had five in the Morehead win.
Flyer special teams were outstanding. Punter Nate Miller averaged 41.1 yards on his seven punts, with two inside the 20. Miller also picked up an errant snap on 4th-and-14 and ran 17 yards to keep the drive alive and more importantly, prevent Morehead State from getting what would have been its best field position of the day.
Hunterâ€™s clutch fourth-quarter runback gave him three kickoff returns for an average of 32.7 yards a return. Senior kicker Nick Glavin remained perfect on the season with four PATâ€™s and two field goals. UDâ€™s kick coverage was also very solid, holding MSU to an average of 2.7 yards on three punt returns and 18.4 yards on seven kickoffs.
The Flyers improve their overall record to 2-1 and will step out of conference play for the final time next Saturday when they take on Central State at home Saturday, Sept. 25, at 7 p.m. ET. It will be UDâ€™s first night home game in six years.