The defense and the special teams were doing their part. And when Shane Hamm started making plays, the offense brought the Flyers back for a three-point victory.
By Jeff Gilbert For Press Pros
Dayton, OH – Shane Hamm bounced out of the quick postgame talk from underneath Welcome Stadium with the joy of victory in his voice. Maybe he collapsed into a nap a couple hours later, but at that moment he was amped.
It was the first time he had been summoned after a game to speak with reporters.
First question: “How you doing?”
“Doing great. Just won a football game. Can’t be much better,” he said with all the conviction of a good salesman.
And you don’t have to sell the 2,587 people in the stadium on how special Hamm was when it mattered most in the Flyers’ come-from-behind 23-20 victory over Stetson.
Hamm made his second start at quarterback, and while the defense and special teams were major factors, it wasn’t until Hamm began to make plays in the second half that the Flyers gained control.
Hamm’s stats won’t win him Pioneer Football League player of the week honors. He completed 11 of 18 passes for 122 yards and rushed for 44 yards, including a one-yard touchdown sneak, on 12 carries. But five or six plays usually matter the most in a victory, and Hamm made some of those.
“He listened to the coaches, made the adjustments and we were able to execute better,” Flyers head coach Rick Chamberlin said.
The Flyers (5-2, 3-1 PFL) were locked in a 10-10 tie at halftime thanks to Logan Dalton’s 34-yard interception return for a touchdown and Sam Webster’s 39-yard field goal following Luke Brenner’s 72-yard kickoff return. The Hatters (3-2, 1-2) outgained the Flyers 231-74 in the first half.
Trailing 20-10, Hamm hit Joey Swanson with a 16-yard pass to the Stetson 34. On third-and-9, he hit Jake Chisholm with for a six-yard gain to set up Webster for a 44-yard field goal. Now the Flyers trailed 20-13 with 3:43 left in the third.
Hamm dropped back to pass on the first play of the next possession and threw over the middle to Derek Willits, who did the rest on a 58-yard gain to the Stetson 12.
“I’m really just settling into the game, just trusting my players around me, letting them make plays,” Hamm said.
Talking about the play reminded Hamm of when he learned to play quarterback.
“I was told that if we could just twinkle our nose, get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands, we’d be a great team,” he said. “So that’s kind of been my mentality ever since I was real little – get the ball to the playmakers, let them make plays, make me look good.”
Chisholm finally found some room to run and got the ball to the one on the next two plays. Hamm’s sneak tied the score at 20 on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The defense forced another three-and-out punt, and Hamm got back to work.
On the first play from the Dayton 45, Hamm made maybe his best play of the game and certainly his smartest. The snap sailed past him back to the 22. He picked it up and threw the ball out of bounds just beyond the line of scrimmage to save a huge loss.
What ensued was a 13-play drive that consumed 7:25 off the clock with several key plays by Hamm. On a third-and-10, Hamm scrambled for 10 yards to pick up a first down at the Stetson 45. After he was sacked to set up third-and-13, he scrambled 14 yards for a first down at the 34. Eventually the drive stalled, and Webster kicked a 22-yard field goal with 6:06 left for the game’s final points.
“We know that if we just kept imposing our will on them that they will break down eventually and we’ll start breaking plays like we did the second half,” Hamm said.
Hamm became the starter after Dante Casciola was lost for the season to injury in the loss at Butler two weeks ago. So for the second time this season the Flyers are playing with an inexperienced quarterback. That’s why the offense is playing a little catch up to the defense and special teams.
“The change of quarterback, that changed a little bit as far as the timing, the fluidity of our offense,” he said. “Our offense is still trying to find their little niche. We know what Jake Chisholm can do. Now, we’ve got to get Shane into the flow of things consistently for four quarters, not just one.”
Dayton’s defense was on alert for the top passing game in the PFL. They attacked quarterback Brady Meitz with a four-man rush that had a lot of success. Led by senior tackle Sam Schadek, the Flyers sacked Meitz four times and hurried him seven times.
“If we can get pressures from our front line without having to run any blitzes, it changes the game completely,” said senior linebacker Ben Schmiesing. “And those guys do a great job every week. They did a great job again today.”
The hurries often resulted in throwaways out of bounds. But when Meitz had enough time, sometimes just enough, he hit receivers for big gains.
In the first quarter, a 29-yard completion to the UD 28 would have produced at least a field goal attempt if not for a Schadek sack.
In the second quarter, a 32-yard completion to the 18 set up a Stetson field goal and a 3-0 lead. And after Dalton’s pick-six, a 21-yard completion set up a one-yard touchdown run to pull the Hatters even 10-10 at halftime.
In the third quarter, Meitz made Chamberlin wonder if the halftime talk had done any good. Meitz threw deep to Quinton Lane for a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of the half and a 17-10 lead.
Midway through the third quarter, Meitz threw on the run for a 34-yard completion to the six on fourth down to set up a field goal and a 20-10 lead. The Hatters didn’t threaten again.
Chamberlin said the improved defensive play in the second half after the opening touchdown didn’t have anything to do with adjustments.
“We just did not execute,” he said. “We didn’t change anything we were doing in the second half. Really the big plays that we gave up today was poor tackling.”
After the Flyers tied the score, the Hatters came out throwing to try to get the lead back. But on third-and-6 from their own 39, Meitz didn’t see Schmiesing coming on the blitz until it was too late. The sack forced a punt and the Flyers ran out the final 3:44 for their second straight win.
“It wasn’t even really designed all that much,” Schmiesing said. “The play just brought me to the football. There was a gap there wide open, so I decided to shoot it and luckily the quarterback didn’t want to move out of my way. So I just wrapped him up and took him down with me.”
Stetson had to wonder how it lost. Meitz threw for 327 yards and the Hatters outgained the Flyers 388-267. But the Flyers’ defense held the Hatters to 82 yards after the 75-yard touchdown that opened the second half.
And don’t forget the third phase: special teams. Brenner returned three kickoffs for 110 yards. Add that to the Flyers’ total offense and they’re only outgained by 11 yards.
“They crashed hard, and I just took it to the outside got some space and let loose,” he said. “It’s very important just from an energy standpoint, something to get the offense going. I love to bring the juice when I can make a big play.”
On the flip side, the Flyers forced fair catches, stopped the Hatters for minus-one yard on two punt returns and Drew Nieman averaged 47.2 yards on four punts.
“That’s why you call them special teams because there are special people that play on that,” Chamberlin said. “They can turn a game. You got to win the turnover battle and special teams. And today we didn’t turn it over and had the one interception. And then we won the special teams. That’s why we won by three today because we executed on special teams.”
And a little bit of special quarterback play.