The Pioneer Football League Report: Week 4

Monday, September 16, 2019
by Cody Bush, PFL Media Relations


IVY WEEK! Four games against Ivy League members highlight the Week 4 PFL schedule, with three of those contests at PFL home fields. Jacksonville hosts Dartmouth, Marist hosts Cornell and San Diego hosts Harvard while Butler travels to Princeton… HOME SWEET HOME? PFL teams are now 8-4 at home after posting a 2-2 record in Week 3. Five PFL teams are at home this weekend with Dayton and Jacksonville playing their home openers this week… THE ROAD UNKIND. PFL teams enter Week 4 with a 3-8 record in road games as Dayton (2-0 on the road) won at Robert Morris while Jacksonville won at Presbyterian in Week 3. Davidson will play its first road game in Week 4 while Butler will play its first true road game (opened at Target Field against No. 1 North Dakota State).

All times Eastern. 

Cornell at Marist, Noon

Location: Poughkeepsie, New York
Stadium: Tenney Stadium
Series: First Meeting

Duquesne at Dayton, 1 p.m.
Location: Dayton, Ohio
Stadium: Welcome Stadium
Series: DUQ leads, 10-6    Streak: DUQ, two wins
Previously: Duquesne def. Dayton, 28-23 (2018)

Dartmouth at Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Broadcast: ESPN+
Location: Jacksonville, Florida
Stadium: D.B. Milne Field
Series: First Meeting

Harvard at San Diego, 4 p.m.
Location: San Diego, California
Stadium: Torero Stadium
Series: HAR leads, 3-0    Streak: HAR, three wins
Previously: Harvard def. San Diego, 36-14 (2018)

Butler at Princeton, 5 p.m.
Broadcast: Not Available
Location: Princeton, New Jersey
Stadium: Princeton Stadium
Series: PRIN leads, 1-0    Streak: PRIN, one win
Previously: Princeton def. Butler, 50-7 (2018)

Davidson at Campbell, 6 p.m.
Broadcast: ESPN+
Location: Buies Creek, North Carolina
Stadium: Barker-Lane Stadium
Series: CAM leads, 6-4    Streak: CAM, five wins
Previously: Campbell def. Davidson, 42-29 (2017)

Western New England at Stetson, 6 p.m.
Broadcast: ESPN+
Location: DeLand, Florida
Stadium: Spec Martin Memorial Stadium
Series: First Meeting

Morehead State at Murray State, 7 p.m.
Broadcast: ESPN+
Location: Murray, Kentucky
Stadium: Roy Stewart Stadium
Series: MUR leads, 40-16-1    Streak: MUR, three wins
Previously: Murray State def. Morehead State, 63-13 (1995)

Valparaiso at Truman State, 8 p.m.
Location: Kirksville, Missouri
Stadium: Stokes Stadium
Series: TSU leads, 1-0    Streak: TSU, one win
Previously: Truman State def. Valparaiso, 34-20 (2018)

Off Week: Drake


CORNELL AT MARIST: In winning its PFL opener against Stetson, Marist saw wideouts Anthony Olivencia (150 yards) and Jon Kanda (107) each surpass 100 receiving yards while Mekhai Johnson posted 125 rushing yards. The Red Foxes will meet one of the Ivy League’s New York members with a trip to the Finger Lakes area to meet Cornell for the first time in program history. RED FOX TO WATCH: Mekhai Johnson enters Week 4 ranked third among the league’s all-purpose runners (20th in FCS) with 130.5 yards per game. The running back has 156 rushing yards and 105 kick return yards in 2019.

DUQUESNE AT DAYTON: Dayton narrowly improved to 2-0 with a three-point win at Robert Morris in Week 3 and now opens its home schedule against perennial foe Duquesne which has won the last two games in the series. The Flyers are one of eight FCS teams without a blemish on their record after three weeks. Flyers tight end Adam Trautman has been busy in the season’s first two weeks, his 8.0 receptions per game ranking seventh among FCS receivers and his 109 receiving yards per game ranks ninth. FLYERS TO WATCH: The Dayton offensive line has done its job through two games, allowing just seven tackles for loss and just two sacks; the Flyers rank seventh in tackles for loss allowed per game (3.5) entering the weekend.

DARTMOUTH AT JACKSONVILLE: Jacksonville is one of only two PFL teams to post a road win in 2019 and will open its home schedule in Week 4 against an Ivy League member. The Dolphins downed future PFL foe Presbyterian for their first road win since Oct. 28, 2017. Jacksonville used its run game to great effect against Presbyterian, finishing with 304 rushing yards with both Calvin Turner Jr. (114 yards) and Garnett Nicolas (112 yards) each finishing with more than 100 ground yards. DOLPHIN TO WATCH: Return specialist BJ Byrd has made a splash in his first two weeks, amassing 212 combined kick return yards (16th in FCS) while averaging 148.0 all-purpose yards per game (13th in FCS).

HARVARD AT SAN DIEGO: Fresh off its first off week of 2019, San Diego continues its three-game home stand when Harvard visits for the first time since 2013. The Toreros have been well known for their air attack over the years and Reid Stinnett has picked up the string, entering this weekend’s action ranked ninth in completion percentage and 11th in pass efficiency – a Toreros quarterback has finished in the top 10 in pass efficiency each of the past four years. TORERO TO WATCH: So how big was Michael Armstead’s first two weeks as a kick returner? Even with Week 3 off he retained the FCS lead in combined kick return yardage at 373 yards, entering Week 4 with a 71 yard lead over second place.

BUTLER AT PRINCETON: Butler begins a lengthy two-game road trip when it visits Princeton in New Jersey before traveling to Florida to face Stetson in Week 6 (following an off week). Saturday’s contest is the return of a home-and-home set between the Bulldogs and Tigers, which began with last season’s meeting in Indianapolis. The youthful Bulldogs have 62 freshmen (39 true freshmen) on their 2019 roster with only 40 upperclassmen. BULLDOG TO WATCH: Brad Sznajder is one of the old dogs on the roster, the senior entering Week 4 ranked second in total rushing yards (239) and fourth in rushing average (79.7 yards per game).

DAVIDSON AT CAMPBELL: Davidson is off to a 3-0 start for the second consecutive year after shutting out West Virginia Wesleyan in Week 3 – its first shutout since 2014. The Wildcats run game has started to find its footing with a season-high 357 rushing yards in Week 3 and are now ranked No. 4 in the FCS with 304 rushing yards per game. WILDCAT TO WATCH: Eli Turner Jr. became the latest Davidson runner to post a 100-yard game, finishing with 110 rushing yards in Week 3. He also had a touchdown both as a receiver and a runner for his first career multi-TD game.

WESTERN NEW ENGLAND AT STETSON: Stetson will play its next four games in DeLand, Florida (over five weeks), beginning with a visit from Western New England (Springfield, Massachusetts). The game promises plenty of offense with the Hatters averaging 492.5 yards per game and the Golden Bears an impressive 589.0 yards per game after posting 701 yards in a win last week. HATTER TO WATCH: Wide receiver Steven Burdette leads the offense with 183 receiving yards (91.5 yards per game, 4th in PFL) but has not found the end zone so far in 2019 – one of two PFL receivers ranked in the Top 10 in receiving yard average to not score a touchdown (Marist’s Jon Kanda is the other).

MOREHEAD STATE AT MURRAY STATE: Morehead State renews an old rivalry when it travels across the commonwealth to face Murray State in the first meeting between the teams since 1995. The Eagles hit the road after posting 73 points against Kentucky Christian, their best scoring output since 2012 and second-most in the team’s PFL era. Morehead State has outscored its last two opponents (Illinois State and Kentucky Wesleyan) by a 56-13 margin in the second half. EAGLE TO WATCH: Issiah Aguero has been the PFL’s most efficient runner through Week 3, averaging 6.76 yards per carry – the only PFL runner averaging more than six yards per carry. He also leads the league with 284 total rushing yards (94.7 per game).

VALPARAISO AT TRUMAN STATE: Valparaiso returns to the road for a Week 4 contest at Division II Truman State. The Crusaders special teams provided an early touchdown in Week 3 against Central Connecticut State as Jamari Booker blocked a punt, picked up the ball and returned it 30 yards for a score. It was one of two blocked kicks by the Crusaders in Week 3 and they have three blocked kicks in 2019. CRUSADER TO WATCH: Keeping the spotlight on Booker, he scored for the second time in his career (first was a pick six in 2017) and led the Crusaders with eight tackles while also forcing a fumble against the Blue Devils.

Complete news and notes available in PDF version

Facing the No. 14 team in the FCS, Dayton faced daunting odds to win its season opener at Indiana State. But when Sean Prophit scored with 1:57 left the Flyers had an opportunity. Then Zach Rumpke turned that opportunity into reality with an interception to seal the win. It was the highest-ranked FCS opponent a Dayton team had defeated in program history and was the PFL’s third win all-time against the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

Valparaiso is set to celebrate its 100-year history over the course of the campaign by recognizing and celebrating individuals and teams from select eras at four games this season. The Crusaders have won 11 conference championships, including six in the Indiana Collegiate Conference and two in the Pioneer Football League. Valparaiso will retire the numbers of two University legends at the Homecoming game on Sept. 28 at Brown Field. Garry Puetz ’73 and Fuzzy Thurston ’56 (posthumous) will become the first players in program history to have their numbers retired.

A trio of Pioneer Football League Punters were named to the inaugural FCS Punter of the Year Award Watch List presented by The Augusta Sports Council. Drake’s Ross Kennedy, Morehead State’s Andrew Foster and San Diego’s Tanner Kuljian were each named to the 28-player list released in July. Each of the three finished 2018 ranked among the NCAA’s Top 100 punters in punting average. Kuljian was ranked No. 14 nationally, averaging 42.8 yards per punt on 59 kicks. Foster was No. 26 among FCS kickers with 41.9 yards per punt. Kennedy finished the season No. 93 among FCS punters (37.1 yards per punt).

San Diego wide receiver Michael Bandy, Dayton tight end Adam Trautman and Drake defensive back Will Waner made the rounds as the Preseason All-America squads were announced. Bandy was named to all four Preseason All-America teams (STATS, Athlon, Phill Steele and HERO), Warner was named to three (STATS, Phill Steele and HERO) and Trautman earned recognition on two (STATS and Phill Steele).

Three Pioneer Football League student-athletes were among 137 nominees from across the country for the 28th edition of the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team®. George Hatalowich (Davidson), Luke Butera (Marist) and Ryan Culhane (Dayton) were nominated for the 2019 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team®. In order to meet the criteria set forth by Allstate and the AFCA, each player must be actively involved with a charitable organization or service group while maintaining a strong academic standing.

As 2019 gets underway, the longest-tenured coaches in Division I FCS are Marist’s Jim Parady and Monmouth’s Kevin Callahan, who have been head coaches at their respective schools since 1992. On the other end of the spectrum, the PFL welcomes two new head coaches in 2019: Valparaiso’s Landon Fox and Drake’s Jeff Stepsis, who were part of 24 new head coaches in the FCS this season.

In March Valparaiso Director of Athletics Mark LaBarbera introduced Landon Fox as the 18th head coach of the Crusaders foottball program. Fox is no stranger to success in the Pioneer Football League, as he spent the 11  previous season as Dayton’s defensive coordinator and secondary coach. During that time, the Flyers compiled an 86-38 record, won three PFL championships and participated in the 2015 FCS playoffs while making defense a hallmark of the program.

Coming off the best season in more than 65 years, Stetson football coach Roger Hughes was rewarded with a contract extension that will keep him on the Hatters sideline through at least the 2021 season. Hughes, who has guided the Stetson football program since 2011 when he was charged with leading the program onto the field after more than 50 years without a team, was named Pioneer Football League Coach of the Year in 2018.

Todd Stepsis, the architect of the Drake football team’s nationally-ranked defense, was named the head coach of the Drake football team in December. He takes the reins of the Bulldogs’ program after serving as the program’s defensive coordinator for the past five seasons under previous head coach Rick Fox, who resigned his position. As the defensive coordinator, Stepsis built the Drake defense into one of the nation’s top units and coached a total of 42 all-conference selections including the program’s all-time leading tackler and the 2018 PFL Defensive Player of the Year, Nathan Clayberg.


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