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Stetson draws two-time league champ San Diego in PFL opener
Stetson plays its first Pioneer Football League game Saturday, and guess which team the Hatters play?
Two-time defending champion University of San Diego, which also ranked first in the league’s preseason coaches poll this season.
A thank-you note to the PFL from Stetson coach Roger Hughes surely is in the mail. This matchup is a baptism by fire for Stetson.
San Diego and Stetson are both 1-2, but that’s where the similarities end.
SAN DIEGO AT STETSON
RECORDS: San Diego (1-2), Stetson (1-2)
WHERE: Spec Martin Memorial Stadium
WHEN: 1 p.m. Saturday
The Toreros have lost to two better-than-average FCS schools in Harvard and Cal Poly. The Hatters, a first-year program with a roster almost entirely made up of freshmen, have been defeated by Florida Tech, an NCAA Division II start-up, and Division III Birmingham-Southern.
Saturday’s 1 p.m. game at Spec Martin Memorial Stadium brings a significantly better visiting team than Hatters fans saw in two previous home games — a 31-3 victory over NAIA Warner and last week’s 49-34 loss to Birmingham-Southern.
“Our biggest challenge is going to be to hang with them up front,” Hughes said. “Their physicality both on the offensive and defensive lines stands out. Defensively, their front four is as good as we’re gonna face this year, and their linebackers are very physical.”
San Diego’s exceptional offensive line provides protection for senior quarterback Mason Mills, who is on the verge of becoming the
Toreros’ all-time leader in several categories, including completions and passes. Mills needs eight attempts and 22 completions to take the top spot from current Cincinnati Bengals backup QB Josh Johnson.
While all signs point in favor of San Diego, Toreros coach Dale Lindsey remains cautious of Stetson for three reasons: An experienced coach in Hughes; the Hatters’ Florida recruiting base; and, in his view, Stetson doesn’t look like a first-year team on film.
“I’ve watched them play; they don’t play like a team that’s in its first year of competition,” Lindsey said. “This is not a freshmen team, I can tell you. I’ve had that experience, coaching a first-year team when we started the program back up at SMU.”
Lindsey pointed out several superlatives about the Hatters’ play, but he didn’t mention the biggest factor for the first-year team, and that’s been inconsistent play. Too often, after a succession of good plays, the Hatters come up with a major snafu: a penalty, a turnover, a bad snap, a defensive breakdown, a botched kick.
And those are the type of mistakes Stetson has to avoid not only Saturday, but through the rest of the season now that PFL play is here.
“We can’t turn the ball over like we have in the games we lost, and our kicking game has to be outstanding,” Hughes said. “We have to make sure they have to go long fields to score, if we’re going to have a chance in the game.”
By Sean Kernan, Daytone Beach News-Journal