The UD Flyers got big productions from Jack Cook, Adam Trautman, and Tucker Yinger, in Saturday’s win over Butler. But the biggest contribution of all may have come from punter Sean Smith.
INDIANAPOLIS — It isn’t often after a game that a coach calls a punter aside and says, “You won that game for us. That one punt won the game.”
That’s what University of Dayton assistant coach Ken Lucky told Sean Smith after the Flyers stopped Butler, 38-28, Saturday afternoon in Sellick Bowl.
And head coach Rick Chamberlin got a kick out of it, too.
The Flyers were on an offensive feast, stuffing themselves with yardage and points early in the game, building a 21-0 lead just one minute into the second quarter. Butler flipped the table and spread the feast all over the floor, scoring twice and it was 21-13.
Even worse was that UD was fourth-and-11 on its 2-yard-line, forcing a Smith punt that probably would give Butler workable field position.
Smith, though, unloaded. He was Smith without the Wesson, exploding an 80-yard-punt, a coast-to-coast boot that pinned Butler at its 19.
After a three-and-out, the Butler punter only reached mid-field, setting UD up for a seven-play drive that gave them a comfort level at 28-13.
Smith’s punt set a scho0l record and a Pioneer Football League record, but was not that shocking. Smith has been the premiere PFL punter for four years and as UD’s vice president of sports communications Doug Hauschild said, “If you asked him to make the football whistle Dixie, he probably could do it.” Yes, he could and he might ask, “What key you want it in?”
Normally, Smith stands 14 yards behind the line of scrimmage, but could only stand back 10 yards on this one.
“Yeah, I hurried it,” said Smith. “When you are backed up that far, you just get if off and you don’t worry about how far it goes.”
Said Chamberlin, he always asks me what to do on a bad snap and I tell him, “Don’t take a safety. Just get it out of there.”
He couldn’t have gotten this one out of there any farther without putting jets on the NCAA logo.
Want more incredulous stuff? Smith kicked the laces.
“I actually dropped the ball with the laces down,” he said. “It still felt great and I just saw it go.” And go and go and go and go. “I knew I had a little wind behind me and knew I just had to get it off.”
Smith, a senior from Columbus, did not know he kicked his way into the school and PFL record books and said, “I did not know that. Wow. That’s cool. I just do my job, that’s it.”
As far as Chamberlin was concerned, it was a job well-done, above and beyond, just like his punt —above the stands and beyond the returner.
“It was THE play of the game,” said Chamberlin. “We made some plays early, offensively and defensively, but at that moment, I could feel the momentum slipping away. I was hoping we could get it off, cover it and get them at about the 50, then play good defense.
“Next thing I saw was that thing rocket off his foot,” said Chamberlin. “Then I was watching the return man and you could see the panic in his eyes. Then he takes off running backwards and realizes, ‘I can’t get to that.’ Yes, that was the BIG play.”
And that is saying a lot on this day because of what guys like red shirt freshman quarterback Jack Cook did, what senior feature back Tucker Yinger did, what tight end Adam Trautman did, what senior wide receiver Ryan Skibinski did.
Consider all this while wondering how any human being can kick a football 80 yards.
—How about five touchdown passes by Cook, a school record while completing 16 of 19 for 254 yards? He was 5 for 7 in the first half, three for touchdowns.
His five touchdown passes tied the school record held by Kevin Hoyng, who just happens to be his quarterback coach.
“Coach Hoyng told me when I ran off the field that I tied his record,” said Cook. “That’s pretty cool.”
On his first pass, he missed Skibinski, who was as open as doors at Wal-Mart at 3 a.m. and Cook said, “Yeah, that ticked me off. I was angry at myself on the first drive. I missed a couple and completed one, made me upset, and I knew I had to bouce back.”
The bounce was more than a bounce to the ounce — he hit 14 0f his final 15.
Said Chamberlin, “That’s grit. That’s Jack. He is such a competitor and that’s why we liked him so much. We were initally going to play him at safety because of that.”
As fortunes would have it, senior quarterback Alex Jeske was injured in this season’s first game and Cook became a safety, a safety valve step-in quarterback and he has the looks of a super-star signal-caller.
—How about tight end Adam Trautman catching three passes, all three for touchdowns, tying a school single game TD reception record? His catches were for 25, 34 (UD’s first two scores) and three yards.
—How about feature back Tucker Yinger carrying 28 times, the most of his career, for 222 yards?
In recent weeks, opponents have focused on stopping the shifty senior from Columbus. But he stunned Butler early on UD’s second possession.
They were pinned at the 4-yard-line, but on the first play, the Flyers caught Butler in a stunt and Yinger saw wide open space like they only see in Montana. Aided by a block from Ryan Skibinski, he bolted 71 yards to Butler’s 25. On the next play Cook hit Trautman for the touchdown, a 7-0 lead and the Flyers never looked back.
“It has been a tough couple of weeks, but I’m happy with the way things turned out today,” said Yinger. “On that first run, they were playing an outside zone and I just cut back and cut under Skibinski’s block and it was home free from there.
“Yeah, teams have been keying on me and there have been some tough looks,” he added. “We’ve tried to establish the run but sometimes Jack (Cook) has had to step up.”
On this day, both Cook and Yinger stepped up — up, up and away.
The victory puts the Flyers at 4-and-5 and there-in lies an inside story that began before the season.
When the team walked into the UD Arena locker room for the first time this fall, there were some numbers scrawled on a blackboard.
They were scribbled by long-time UD equipment manager Tony Caruso and he knew exactly what they meant.
They were years, 1975 and 1976, a time period way before any of the current Flyer footballers were born. And even though Caruso played baseball at UD and coached baseball at UD and is a huge baseball fan, those years on his blackboard did not represent the years the Cincinnati Reds beat Boston in the 1975 World Series and beat the New York Yankees in the 1976 World Series.
Those two years are the last time the University of Dayton football program suffered back-to-back losing seasons — 5-and—6 in 1975 and 4-and-7 in 1976. And Caruso was making a point. Avoid a repeat.
The Flyers were 5-and-6 last year and when they took the Sellick Bowl Field to play Butler they were 3-and-5 with three games left.
That meant they had to beat Butler Saturday, beat Morehead State at home and close with a win at Jacksonville to finish above .500.
The Flyers took Step One Saturday, high-stepping it with long distance plays most of the way.
“I wasn’t aware of the years when we last had back-to-back losing seasons, but I knew it has been a long time,” said Cook. “That’s definitely the goal.”
When told the last back-to-back seasons was before he was born, Yinger said, “Yeah, way before I was born. That is definitely in the forefront of our minds, what is driving us for the rest of the season.”
That, of course, is on Chamberlin’s itinerary, too.
“We still have that chance for a winning season and this one was key,” he said. “We had to get this one and play well so the guys have confidence again. We have a bye week, then play our last home game against Morehead State and if we can get that one we’re set up for the last week at Jacksonville to have a winning season.”
For the past few weeks, the Flyers have been short-handed on defense, particularly at cornerback. And some young players have filled the gaps.
“They’ve had to,” said Chamberlin. “A.J. Watson made some tackles (five) after he had some busts early. Joey Bubonics played better (10 tackles). And how about Sam Broom on special teams, a freshman?”
Broom made only one sweeping tackle, but it was heard in Fort Wayne.
The Flyers had just scored a touchdown to make it 28-13. On the kickoff, Broom hit the Butler kick returner so hard the ball came loose and UD’s Skibinski recovered at Butler’s 29. Three plays later Cook hit Skibinski with a 17-yard slant in the end zone and it was 35-13.
“Broom hit that guy on the sideline and caused the fumble. That’s a freshman making that booming hit and that was another momentum change. We had just scored and, bam, we got ball right back and scored again.”
And that put this one to bed — a punt, a quarterback zeroed in, a running back on the loose and a couple of pass receivers catching everything thrown their way.