Dayton’s road opener comes against top-10 ranked FCS opponent

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Dayton football interviews: Sept. 15, 2021

Southern Illinois had a chance to upset Kansas State last week

The first two opponents for the Dayton Flyers football team played teams from the top level of college football, the Football Bowl Subdivision, the previous week.

Eastern Illinois lost 46-0 to South Carolina before losing 17-10 to Dayton last weekend at Welcome Stadium. Southern Illinois led Kansas State, which received eight top-25 votes this week, 23-21 at halftime before losing 31-23 last Saturday.

Has Dayton ever thought about playing an FBS opponent during its years as a non-scholarship program? Coach Rick Chamberlin said the program had offers during head coach Mike Kelly’s tenure and also received one more recently around 2015.

“Over the years, we’ve had Clemson call us,” Chamberlin said. “We’ve had Penn State call us. During my tenure, we even had Florida State call us about coming to play. Coach Kelly — he was the assistant AD — told them, ‘You do understand we’re non-scholarship FCS?’ They said, ‘That’s OK. We’ll still play.’”

Dayton declined all those offers, and although it’s not playing a FBS team this week, it’s playing one of the best Football Championship Subdivision teams. Southern Illinois (1-1) ranks eighth in the Stats Perform top-25 poll.

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The Flyers play the Salukis at 7 p.m. Saturday in Carbondale, Ill., a six-hour bus ride from Dayton. It’s the seventh meeting between the programs but the first since 1974.

“People at the game are going to see two quarterbacks that mirror one another,” Chamberlin said. “Jack Cook and their quarterback (Nic Baker) are very similar. They’re just playmakers. They can throw the ball. They can run. They’ll come up with the big play when they need to. They have that natural instinct of a football player. So they’re going to see two of the best quarterbacks in FCS.”

Baker set a school record with 460 passing yards in a season-opening 47-21 victory against Southeast Missouri on Sept. 2. He completed 16 of 27 passes for 167 yards with one interception against Kansas State. He drove the Salukis to the Kansas State 21-yard line in the final minutes, needing a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie the game, before being sacked and losing a fumble with 19 seconds left. That ended the upset bid.

“I was proud of our team,” Southern Illinois coach Nick Hill told reporters this week. “This team plays with a lot of passion and effort and energy, and that showed. I felt like our team speed was as good as theirs, and upfront, I felt like we handled the physicality of the game. We did a lot of really good things.”

Hill became head coach in 2016 and, after three straight losing seasons, led the Salukis to a 7-5 finish in 2019. The program played a spring season this year and finished 6-4, reaching the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs in May.

Chamberlin saw the Southern Illinois score while watching ESPN on Saturday night.

“They’re winning at halftime against Kansas State,” he said, “and I’m going, ‘Oh boy, here we go. I’m feeling good after our win. Now I’m looking at a team that’s beating Kansas State that we’re going to be playing next Saturday.’ But that’s all good. It’s fun to go out and play good teams.”

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Dayton’s Zach Rumpke, who plays the flyer position on the defense, was impressed.

“Watching the film, they played all out on the field,” he said. “They’re a great football team. They play hard and don’t count themselves out of any game. We’re going to take the same approach going into this one.”

Dayton overcame a slow start on offense to win its opener. It scored all 17 of its points in an eight-minute stretch during the third quarter.

The game marked the college debuts for all five offensive linemen: tackles David Tkatch and Brian Stevens; guards Marc Rumpke; Dylan DeMaison; and center Mason McLaughlin. All five played every snap.

“We kind of expected it,” Tkatch said, “but it was a long game. I think we had like 75 or 80 snaps. We were tired at the end, but honestly it was all worth it for that victory.”

SATURDAY’S GAME

Dayton at Southern Illinois, 7 p.m., ESPN+, 1290, 95.7

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Highlights: Dayton football vs. Eastern Illinois

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Dayton Flyers band performs at 2021 season opener on Sept. 11, 2021