(STATS) – Dayton has won the most championships in Pioneer Football League history, with four seasons being its longest stretch without securing a title.
Failing to win the PFL this year would push that drought to five seasons, though the Flyers seem intent on not letting that happen.
Dayton took control of the league title race last weekend, and it looks to avoid a letdown Saturday when it visits a Valparaiso program that has been thoroughly dominated in the series.
The Flyers (5-0, 2-0) are one of eight teams in the FCS that has yet to lose after coming away with a 13-12 win over defending league champion San Diego last Saturday.
That outcome seemed unlikely with the Toreros entering on a nine-game winning streak in league action – third-longest in the FCS – and Dayton playing without Connor Kacsor, who was leading the FCS with 151.5 rushing yards per game before suffering a career-ending knee injury in practice Oct. 8.
Without Kacsor, the Flyers found themselves down 9-3 at halftime with 57 total yards. However, that set the stage for his backup to come up with a big play.
Redshirt freshman Tucker Yinger put the Flyers ahead with a 55-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter, and they made a big stop on fourth down with 1:17 to play to hold on for the victory.
“To come down to the wire like that and get it was really emotional,” Yinger said.
Dayton, which has won 11 league titles but none since 2010, hasn’t started 6-0 since 2005. Every other team has a loss in PFL play except for Jacksonville, which is 3-0 but ineligible for the title due to league-imposed penalties.
“It’s outstanding, it’s better than being 0-5 but we’re not done, we’re not done,” coach Rick Chamberlin said. “It’s satisfying right now. We’ll enjoy this one, but all of our attention now is on Valparaiso.”
The Crusaders (1-4, 1-2) lost 34-7 at Drake last Saturday and their only win came the previous week over Davidson, which ended a 15-game skid last weekend with a 14-7 overtime victory against Division II Kentucky Wesleyan.
Valparaiso has dropped 22 of 24 all-time meetings, including the last 11 while averaging 9.5 points compared to 44.0 for Dayton.
The Crusaders are last in the league with 13.6 points per game and 43.0 allowed, and they’re also at the bottom with 63.8 rushing yards and 242.2 total yards per game.
They’ll be facing a Flyers squad that ranks first in the PFL in passing defense (151.4), third in scoring defense (18.0) and fourth in total defense (311.8).
Dayton linebacker Jack Crain was named the PFL co-defensive player of the week after making 16 tackles against San Diego, including teaming with Chris Beaschler to make the stop on the 4th-and-1 play late in the game. Cornerback Cameron Stubbs, meanwhile, is tied for the FCS lead with five interceptions.
“It’s another veteran group, six of their front seven are all seniors or redshirt seniors, some all-conference players on the defensive side of the ball,” Crusaders coach Dave Cecchini said. ” … They do some great things scheme-wise, they do some really nice things in terms of disguising coverages and they do a great job of loading up in the box and containing the run.”
A look at the other Week 7 games Saturday in the PFL (all times Eastern):
Campbell (3-3, 1-2) at Stetson (1-4, 0-3), 1 p.m.
The Fighting Camels’ two losses in league play have come by a total of four points after falling 13-10 at home to Marist last Saturday. Junior De’Shawn Jones is eighth in the FCS with 639 rushing yards. The Hatters have been outscored 166-45 in dropping their last four overall, including 41-14 at Jacksonville last weekend. Stetson defensive back Donald Payne, the 2014 PFL defensive player of the year, is ninth in the FCS with 11.8 tackles per game. The Hatters won 28-24 at Campbell last season as Ryan Tentler passed for 245 yards and three TDs while adding 91 yards on the ground.
Davidson (1-4, 0-2) at Butler (3-2, 1-1), 1 p.m.
After ending their 15-game skid, the Wildcats now look to snap a 19-game slide in PFL play. Defensive lineman Thomas Sykes was named the PFL co-defensive player of the week after his interception in the end zone in OT ended the game. The Bulldogs had a three-game win streak snapped with a 34-21 defeat at Morehead State last Saturday despite racking up a season-high 501 yards. Matt Shiltz rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown and passed for 281 with two TDs and two INTs. Shiltz is fifth among FCS quarterbacks with 440 yards on the ground. These teams last met in 2012, when Butler won 31-20 for its fourth straight victory in the series.
Jacksonville (5-0) vs. Edward Waters (0-5), 1 p.m.
The Dolphins are the only PFL team playing outside of the league as they host the NAIA Panthers in the Jacksonville Football Classic. Jacksonville won its first five games for the first time in program history following last week’s victory over Stetson. Kade Bell was named the PFL offensive player of the week after throwing for 247 yards and five touchdowns, and he ranks eighth in the FCS with 302.6 passing yards per game. Edward Waters, located less than 10 miles from Jacksonville’s campus, lost 44-31 in the only meeting between these schools in 2002.
Drake (3-3, 2-1) at San Diego (3-2, 2-1), 5 p.m.
Now that the Toreros’ nine-game run in league play is over, they’ll look to win their 20th in a row at home in PFL action when they take on a Bulldogs team that has been outscored 97-32 in losing all three on the road. Drake bounced back from a 24-14 loss at Campbell by beating Valparaiso behind Conley Wilkins’ two rushing scores. Wilkins is tied for seventh in the FCS with eight touchdowns (six rushing, one receiving, one return). San Diego has won the last two meetings between these programs, which have each won six PFL titles to tie for second-most behind Dayton.
Idle: Marist (2-4, 1-2)
The Red Foxes return to action next week with their third straight road game as they go up against Davidson. Wide receiver Matt Tralli is four receptions away from setting the program record with 177, while free safety Zach Adler picked off his 17th pass at Campbell to move within one of the school mark.
Idle: Morehead State (3-3, 2-1)
The Eagles enter their bye with three wins in their last four games. All of those victories, though, came at home and they’ll next try to end a seven-game road skid with a matchup against the Fighting Camels. Austin Gahafer is tied for third in the FCS in combined passing and rushing TDs with 19, and he ranks fourth with 1,762 passing yards.