The tailgate scene on Saturday afternoons outside Welcome Stadium always has a good vibe.
Fans congregate in the parking lot between the stadium and UD Arena. There are camper vans, numerous tents, plenty of drinks and the smells of grilling meats all the way up to kickoff time.
Rick Chamberlin still gets goosebumps walking through the area with the team after close to five decades of experiencing the atmosphere — first as a player, then as an assistant coach and now has the head coach of the Dayton Flyers for the last 14 seasons.
“When our team leaves the locker room over there at the arena, they walk down through the tailgate,” Chamberlin said, “and they’ve got fans on each side of them. The band sometimes is playing. You talk about energy and getting excited for a football game, that’ll do it.”
Dayton had a crowd of 2,682 at its first home game against Kentucky State two weeks ago. Its second home game, at 1 p.m. Saturday against Drake, sold out on Wednesday. That means there will be close to 4,500 fans at Welcome Stadium on Family Weekend for the team’s Pioneer Football League opener.
“Our players play with the energy,” Chamberlin said, “but it’ll be up a notch higher now with this crowd being there.”
“There’s going to be a buzz on campus,” Dayton running back Jake Chisholm said. “It’s always one of the most fun games of the year having all the people on campus for Family Weekend.”
Drake (0-4), picked to finish seventh in the PFL preseason poll, has lost to North Dakota State (56-14, Missouri State (17-14 in overtime), Idaho (42-14) and Marist (30-25). Against Marist, Drake overcame a 24-10 deficit in the third quarter with 15 straight points only to lose on a 6-yard touchdown run with 43 seconds to play.
Dayton leads the series against Drake 28-9 and has won the last two games. It beat the Bulldogs 28-10 in Des Moines, Iowa, a year ago.
“We know it’s going to be a team with grit,” Chamberlin said. “We know it’s going to be physical. All of our PFL opponents love to play the Flyers. It makes their season if they can beat the Flyers, so we know we’ll get their best shot.”
Drake quarterback Ian Corwin ranks second in the PFL in total offense (206 yards per game) and leads the league in yards per completion (14.8). His top receiver is Trey Radocha, who leads the PFL in yards per catch (29.0).
“We’ve just got to come out and be physical,” Dayton linebacker Ben Schmiesing said. “We’ve got to have all 11 guys on offense, defense and special teams doing their job for the full 60 minutes.”