Special to College Sports Journal
Editor’s note: This story is courtesy of University of Dayton and Western Illinois athletics.
DAYTON, Ohio – Dayton scored the first touchdown of the game, but from there it was all Western Illinois on the scoreboard as the Leathernecks won 24-7 in their opening round FCS Playoffs game on Saturday afternoon.
Nikko Watson rushed for a game-high 152 yards on 34 attempts while on defense redshirt-freshman Pete Swenson recorded four sacks as Western limited Dayton to just 25 yards in the second half.
“I feel very fortunate to come out of here with a win,” said WIU coach Bob Nielson. “I’m very proud of the way our guys played in the second half. We struggled in the first half, give Dayton credit for that both offensively and defensively. But we really took control of the game with our defense in the second half and we moved the ball effectively enough to put some points on the board.”
The game was the first Football Championship (FCS) playoff appearance in Dayton program history, which won the automatic bid from the Pioneer Football League.
Both teams traded possessions in the first quarter. After an interception in the endzone, Western’s offense took over and moved the chains. Facing 4th-and-1 on its own 39, the Leathernecks were stopped shy of a first down on a run. The Flyers went 39 yards on four plays, capped by Alex Jeske’s 5-yard touchdown run and 7-0 lead in the final minute of the opening quarter.
Dayton drove into WIU (7-5 overall) territory at the start of the second quarter. Western got a goal line stop on 3rd-and-goal. The Flyers (10-2) tried a hurry-up snap but it was fumbled and recovered by Brett Taylor. That marked the fourth fumble recovery this season by Taylor, tying the season record.
Western’s offense went 3-and-out and Dayton again took over inside WIU territory. The defense came up again with a big play in the redzone when David Griffith intercepted his third pass of the season, and returned to the 35.
Nikko Watson gained a first down on third and short when he ran over a Dayton defender, into Flyer territory. Sean McGuire connected with Lance Lenoir on a 39-yard connection to the seven. Two plays later Watson marched into the endzone. Nathan Knuffman‘s extra point tied the score with six minutes left in the opening half.
The Leathernecks got a 3-and-out on the Flyers, then covered 56 yards on 12 plays. Knuffman kicked a 27-yard field goal to put WIU up 10-7 heading into the locker room.
Western struck late in the third quarter thanks to an interception by Adam Brott. Western marched 59 yards in six plays, thanks in part to a 25-yard completion to Stacey Smith. McGuire finished off the drive with a 22-yard touchdown to Lenoir.
Late in the third quarter the defense forced another UD punt, and thanks to a penalty Western took over 1st-and-10 on the Flyers’ 36. Seven plays later McGuire set his personal-best on his second touchdown pass, a 9-yarder to Smith and extend the lead to 24-7.
During the second half, Western held the ball for 19 minutes and held UD to 2-of-9 on third downs.
Watson turned in his 13th career 100-yard game, averaging 4.5 yards per carry, and scored a TD. McGuire went 12-of-26 for 183 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.
Lenoir ended with 93 yards on six catches, and in the process tied his own WIU season record for most receptions (75 last year).
Western out-gained Dayton 424-206 in total yards in the game, including 241-82 edge on the ground. The Leathernecks held a 34:30-25:30 overall edge in time of possession, and scored 14 points off the four UD turnovers.
Taylor and Swenson had seven tackles each to lead the defense. Swenson tied his career-high in total tackles and set a new standard with his four sacks and 5.0 tackles for a loss. He tied for the second-most sacks by a Leatherneck in a game.
Chris Beaschler recorded a game-high 14 tackles for the Flyers. Tucker Yinger gained 79 yards on the ground (all but six in the first half) while Jeske finished 13-of-27 for 124 yards and three interceptions.
“It wasn’t our best game but at the same time I think Dayton was exactly what we thought they were going to be,” said Nielson. “They’re a team that’s going to play really hard, are very experienced and execute very well. As a result when we did not execute very well we struggled moving the football and struggled stopping them.”
The Leathernecks now get a rematch against Missouri Valley Football Conference co-champion Illinois State. Kickoff next Saturday against the second-seeded Redbirds is set for 1 p.m. Eastern and can be seen live on ESPN3.
WIU GAME NOTES
• Myles Spearman picked off a Dayton pass in the end zone late in the first quarter. It was his second career pick, both coming in consecutive weeks and in the end zone.
• Taylor tied Lee Russell (2003), Edgerton Hartwell (2000), Jason Vasconez (1994), Lamar McGriggs (1990) and Chris Gunderson (1983) with four fumble recoveries in a yea Lenoir’s opening reception pushed him over 1,000 yards this season, and he became the only Leatherneck to record two 1,000 receiving yardage seasons. He also extended his streak to 29 consecutive games with a catch, moving into a tie for second place in WIU history.
• Watson moved into a tie for sixth place among the season ‘Top 10’ with his 14th rushing TD… Griffith recorded the fourth interception of his career…
• Lenoir caught his 20th career touchdown, one off the career record… The last time a Leatherneck recorded two or more sacks in a game was two years ago at Indiana State by Kevin Kintzel…
• Swenson recorded the most sacks since Thomas Morgan in 1982… Attendance in the rainy afternoon game was 997… Western improved to 7-9 all-time in the playoffs.
• Today was the first matchup in program history between Dayton and Western Illinois.
• The two teams have played over 2,000 combined games in 200 seasons on the gridiron.
• No Pioneer Football League team has ever won in the FCS Playoffs. Butler lost 31-0 to Tennessee State in 2013, and San Diego lost 52-14 in 2014.
• Dayton struck first thanks to a five-yard TD scamper by Alex Jeske in the first quarter to put the Flyers up 7-0.
• Western Illinois came back with a score of its own in the second quarter on a Nikko Watson seven-yard rush to tie the game.
• The Leathernecks made it ten straight points to take a 10-7 lead with a 27-yard field goal to cap off a four-minute drive to end the first half.
• WIU expanded their lead to 17-7 on a 22-yard connection from Sean McGuire to Lance Lenoir to end the third quarter.
• The games’ only score of the fourth quarter came on a nine-yard pass from McGuire to Stacey Smith to bring the game to its final score of 24-7.
• With a narrow deficit at the half, Dayton’s offense was shut down in the second stanza, mustering just 26 yards of total offense.
• Jeske finished the game 13-of-27 for 124 yards and three interceptions.
• Tucker Yinger led the Flyers in rushing with 79 yards.
• Cory Stuart led the receivers with four receptions for 37 yards.
• Christopher Beaschler led the Flyers with 14 total tackles, nine of which were solo.
• Nolan Harmotto and Jack Crain also finished the game with double-digit tackles, each registering 11.
• Cameron Stubbs and Chris Searles each snagged interceptions.
• WIU out-gained Dayton 224-25 in total yards in the second half.
• Dayton had four turnovers inside the red zone in the game. The Flyers had had one red zone turnover during the regular season.