Dayton plays PFL champion St. Thomas for first time Saturday

Flyers try to bounce back after loss at San Diego

St. Thomas University made the move from Division III to Division I almost 30 years after the Dayton Flyers, and like UD, St. Thomas found quick success in the Pioneer Football League.

Dayton won the first PFL championship in 30 years ago when the league had six members. St. Thomas, which is located in St. Paul, Minn., won the PFL title last season, its second in the league.

“They’ve stepped up into our league now and hit the ground rolling, just like the Flyers did in ‘93,” Dayton coach Trevor Andrews said Wednesday. “They’re a physical football team. They going to get lined up and run the ball at you and take their shots. Defensively, they’ve got some really good pieces that they move around. You’ll see some pressures out of them. You’ll see some some good sound fundamental football. They’re a well-coached team.”

Dayton (2-2., 0-1) and St. Thomas (2-2, 1-0) meet for the first time at 1 p.m. Saturday at Welcome Stadium.

For the Flyers, the game represents the chance to put itself back in PFL contention one week after losing 40-25 at San Diego. Beating the preseason favorite St. Thomas would prove Dayton has the chance to compete for the league championship.

“They haven’t lost a PFL game yet,” Dayton wide receiver Derek Willits said of St. Thomas. “They run a great program, and they’re really disciplined. They’re going to present a challenge this week.”

The Tommies tied for third in the PFL at 6-2 in 2021, their first season. They won their last two league games that season.

Last year, they finished 8-0 in the league and 10-1 overall but were ineligible for the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs because they were still making the transition from D-III to D-I. That’s still the case this year. They won’t be able to compete in the playoffs until 2025.

St. Thomas opened the season with a 36-26 victory against Black Hills State (S.D.). It then lost 24-0 to South Dakota and 45-13 to Harvard. It beat Morehead State 35-28 in its PFL opener last week when Tak Tateoka threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Wildermuth with nine seconds to play.

Shawn Shipman led the St. Thomas offense with 204 yards on 16 carries against Morehead State. He had touchdown runs of 61 and 71 yards. He ranks second in the PFL with 103.8 yards per game.

Dayton will try to build the way it played in the second half at San Diego while working to fix the first-half mistakes — namely four turnovers (two fumbles and two interceptions).

“We’ve been great at controlling the football and hanging on to the football here for for a number of years,” Andrews said. “Every once a while, you get a hiccup like that for whatever reason, and when you do, you’ve got to play complementary football. If the offense turns it over, the defense needs to stand up and fight, and we didn’t do that. Sudden change is a part of football. Teams that capitalize off a sudden change and use that as a momentum swing back the other way, those are your championship teams.”

Award news: Willits, a redshirt senior, was named a semifinalist for the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame’s William V. Campbell Trophy this week. There will be 12-14 finalists named on Oct. 25. Each will receive an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship

Known as the “Academic Heisman,” the Campbell Trophy “recognizes a student-athlete who best exemplifies academic success alongside football performance and community leadership.”

A Dayton player has been a semifinalist for 18 straight years. The others were: Jake Chisholm (2022); Brandon Easterling (2020 & 2021); Tim Simon (2019); David Leisring (2018); Jack Crain (2017); Chris Beaschler (2016); Danny Leach (2015); Will Bardo (2014); Colin Monnier (2013); Bill Petraiuolo (2012); Devon Langhorst (2011); Brandon Wingeier (2010); Sean Heenan (2009); Bart Bergfeld (2008); Brandon Cramer (2007); and Brandon Godsey (2006).

Willits, an Alter graduate, leads the Flyers with 11 catches for 137 yards. He’s a two-year starter and a captain this year.


St. Thomas at Dayton, 1 p.m., 1290, 95.7

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