(STATS) – Jacksonville learned two months before its opener that it would be reduced to playing the role of spoiler in 2015 due to a postseason ban.
That will especially be the case Saturday as the Dolphins travel to Dayton to take on a Flyers team that’s in the driver’s seat in the Pioneer Football League as one of four remaining unbeaten squads in the FCS.
Jacksonville was a win away from securing the PFL title and the league’s automatic bid into the FCS playoffs last November. The Dolphins, though, withdrew from contention a day before their final game due to violations against the league’s need-based financial aid guidelines.
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They finished tied atop the PFL with San Diego and would’ve earned the playoff berth because they beat the Toreros during the season.
Eight months later, the program was given a one-year postseason ban and had to forfeit five seasons of PFL wins from 2010-14 as well as the 2010 championship it shared with Dayton.
With only pride to play for, no one could have blamed the Dolphins if they got off to a sluggish start this season. However, Jacksonville was undefeated until last Saturday’s 28-24 loss at Drake in which it was outscored 14-0 in the fourth quarter.
"We didn’t play winning football in a tough environment on the road," coach Kerwin Bell said.
The Dolphins (6-1, 4-1) find themselves in a similar situation this week at Dayton (7-0, 4-0). Just like Drake, the Flyers pulled out a home win last Saturday by outscoring Butler 10-0 in the final quarter of a 27-24 victory.
"It’s huge to get some momentum going into Jacksonville," said redshirt freshman Tucker Yinger, whose 50-yard touchdown run gave the Flyers the lead with 7:10 remaining. "It’s gonna be huge."
Dayton is the only remaining unbeaten team that isn’t ranked in the STATS FCS Top 25. Coastal Carolina (7-0) is No. 2, McNeese State (7-0) is 10th and Harvard (7-0) is No. 15.
The Flyers, though, did receive 12 votes in the poll while Jacksonville got four.
"I’ve talked to those guys and conveyed to them that we still have a lot to play for," Bell said Wednesday. " … As I talked to our seniors, this is a new beginning, we still have a lot to fight for. A chance to be best in our league back-to-back years, which has never been done around here in JU history. We’ve got a chance to come knock off an undefeated team up in Dayton."
Jacksonville has taken the last three in this series, winning 21-17 at Dayton in 2012 in the last meeting on an 85-yard kickoff return with 1:23 left. The Flyers have gone 15-3 at home since that loss, including wins in the last five.
That home win streak and a six-game run in league play are tied for the sixth-longest in the FCS, and Dayton’s nine-game overall win streak equals the second-longest.
Flyers coach Rick Chamberlin knows the Dolphins would like nothing more than to end all of those streaks.
"They went into the season knowing that they could not win the championship, so I’m sure they just said ‘hey, let’s just play everybody and go undefeated,’" Chamberlin said. " … Well they slipped up last week but now they have a chance to come in and say ‘OK, we got a loss but Dayton doesn’t have any losses right now. Let’s be the team that puts that loss on them.’"
Dayton is trying to stay ahead of two one-loss teams in PFL play. Morehead State (4-3, 3-1) hosts Drake (4-4, 3-2) this week while San Diego (5-2, 3-1) visits Stetson (2-5, 1-4).
The Flyers, whose 11 titles and 100 league wins are the most in PFL history, travel to face Morehead State next weekend.
"We’re getting into the meat of our schedule," Chamberlin said.