(STATS) – Dayton has won the most titles in the Pioneer Football League but hasn’t claimed the championship in five years.
As the Flyers get set to play their first league game, they have to like their chances of adding a 12th title to their collection with the way Connor Kacsor is tearing up defenses.
Coming off a pair of outstanding performances, the leading rusher in the FCS looks to get Dayton off to a good start in league action when it visits Stetson on Saturday.
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Kacsor was named the PFL Offensive Player of the Year in 2014 after ranking ninth in the FCS with 1,547 rushing yards, fifth with 140.6 yards per game and tying for 11th with 17 touchdowns on the ground as a junior.
He was held to 72 yards on 33 carries in a Week 1 win at Robert Morris but has more than made up for it in the past two games. Kacsor carried the ball 40 times for 244 yards and three TDs in a victory over Duquesne, then had 44 rushes for 229 yards and another three scores last Saturday as the Flyers moved to 3-0 for the first time since 2008 with a 31-27 comeback win over Kennesaw State.
That performance earned him PFL offensive player of the week honors after he was named co-offensive player of the week for his effort against Duquesne. It also moved him to the top of the FCS in three rushing categories: yards (545), yards per game (181.7) and touchdowns (six).
Kacsor also leads the FCS with 194.0 all-purpose yards per game and is the only running back in the subdivision this season with a pair of 200-yard rushing performances – he has six in his career – and a 40-carry game.
Last week, Kacsor gained 213 of his yards after the Flyers fell behind 13-0 less than five minutes into the game, and he scored all three of his TDs after they went down 20-7 early in the third quarter.
"I feel like that’s my whole entire career," the redshirt senior said. "I start off … and have to get my feet underneath me but once I do that, once I start getting the groove … it becomes more momentum and a groove. It’s hard to stop momentum."
Kacsor also carried the ball eight times in a row as Dayton ran the final 4:38 off the clock.
"It seems like Connor gets stronger as the game goes along," coach Rick Chamberlin said.
Dayton received three first-place votes from the PFL coaches and was picked to finish second – just two points behind defending champion San Diego – prior to the season.
"Now it’s PFL," Chamberlin said. " … Being on the road your first PFL game, that’s never easy so we really gotta have a good week of focus and practice."
Kacsor ran 22 times for 133 yards and three TDs in the only meeting between these schools since Stetson restarted the program in 2013, a 49-20 rout for visiting Dayton in October of that year.
"With a back like the one we are facing, we are not fast enough to outrun our mistakes," Hatters coach Roger Hughes said. "We have to make sure that we are aligned properly and in the proper gap. When we get the opportunity, we have to make sure we tackle him and wrap him up."
The Hatters (1-2, 0-1) enter this matchup after allowing 256 and 251 rushing yards in back-to-back road losses to Mercer and Drake by a combined score of 98-17.
" … I really liked how we practiced this week," Hughes said. "If you want to call it soul-searching, then I guess it is, but the kids have really practiced well this week. My comment to them early on Monday was about playing with passion."
This game also features star defensive backs in Dayton’s Cameron Stubbs and Stetson’s Donald Payne and Eric Martin.
Stubbs picked off two passes for the second straight game last week and leads the FCS with 1.3 interceptions per contest. Payne is the reigning PFL Defensive Player of the Year and Martin tied a league record with three INTs at Drake.
A look at the other Week 5 games Saturday in the PFL (all times Eastern):
Morehead State (2-2, 1-0) at Jacksonville (3-0, 1-0), 1 p.m.
This is the lone meeting between teams this week that are unbeaten early on in PFL play. The Eagles are coming off back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1979, while the Dolphins are trying to open with four consecutive wins for the first time since 1991 as they play their home opener. The quarterbacks are expected to be the story as Jacksonville senior Kade Bell leads the PFL with 304.3 yards per game and Morehead State junior Austin Gahafer is second at 268.8 while topping the league with 11 touchdown passes. The Dolphins won their ninth in a row in the series after Bell set a career high with 441 yards and matched a career best with six TD throws in a 45-26 road victory last season. He’s gone 60 of 98 for 955 yards with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions in three matchups.
Valparaiso (0-3, 0-1) at Davidson (0-3, 0-1), 1 p.m.
The Crusaders have been outscored 146-19 and outgained 1,339-672 during their winless start, while the Wildcats have been outscored 138-21 and outgained 1,532-720 during theirs. Valparaiso has lost 32 of its last 34 on the road, and Davidson enters with a 14-game overall slide and 18-game skid in PFL play. The Wildcats haven’t won a league game since escaping with a 28-27 overtime victory at Valparaiso in 2012. The Crusaders avenged that loss with 27-13 home win last season, just their second in nine all-time meetings.
Marist (1-3, 0-1) at San Diego (2-1, 1-0), 4 p.m.
The Toreros come in riding an eight-game win streak in league action, which is tied for the third-longest run in the FCS. They’ve also won all 10 meetings with the Red Foxes while averaging 30.0 points. Both teams start young QBs. Redshirt freshman Anthony Lawrence threw interceptions on two of San Diego’s first three possessions last week but rebounded to finish 21 of 28 with four TD passes for the second straight game in a 38-6 win at Valparaiso. Marist sophomore Michael White threw four INTs and was sacked five times in a 20-16 loss to Jacksonville last Saturday after being dropped six times the previous week in a win over Sacred Heart. The Red Foxes have allowed 18 sacks, second-most in the FCS.
Drake (2-2, 1-0) at Campbell (2-2, 0-1), 6 p.m.
The Bulldogs allowed zero net rushing yards last week in a 41-3 win over visiting Stetson and now take on a Fighting Camels team that leads the league with 807 rushing yards, 5.2 per carry and seven TDs on the ground. Led by PFL defensive player of the week Mack Marrin, Drake had seven sacks and 14 tackles for loss last week. That unit will be trying to stop Campbell’s De’Shawn Jones, second in the league with 508 rushing yards and has three runs of 50-plus yards – including a 72-yard touchdown scamper in a 25-24 loss at Butler last week. Drake has won all five meetings in the series by a combined 174-39, with the teams last playing in 2012.
Idle: Butler (3-1, 1-0)
The Bulldogs and their league-leading offense get an extra week to prepare for a visit to Morehead State. Butler tops the PFL with 31.0 points and 401.0 yards per game behind Matt Shiltz. The senior ranks third in the league with 830 passing yards, is tied for second with eight TD throws and has run for 320 yards – fourth-best among FCS quarterbacks.