By: Sean McKnight
After 57 long years, Stetson finally had the chance to field a football team and join the rest of the college world in the splendor that is college football. The anticipation and hype manifested itself last Saturday when Hatters fans from far and wide enjoyed the spectacle that was Stetson’s beat down of first year program Warner University.
When last Saturday dawned it was a beautiful afternoon and seemed ideal for college football. The atmosphere before the game was euphoric and everyone was in high spirits anxiously awaiting the arrival of Stetson football.
Finally, after almost five hours of tailgating, fans began shuffling into the stands and Spec Martin Stadium came alive with over 6,000 voices chanting and cheering for the Hatters. After the game ball was parachuted in and handed off to President Libby, the a capella group Hat Trick took the field and gave an absolutely outstanding rendition of the national anthem. A rendition so outstanding in fact that all 6,000 of the Hatter faithful joined in adding to the electric atmosphere before the game.
Shortly thereafter, the Hatters first game in 57 years was on its way to starting with the first coin toss. The Hatters won but deferred to the second half. Finally the moment thousands had been waiting for began and the first kickoff of the re-inaugural season was initiated by James LaGamma. The crowd was in a craze from students yelling their heads off to the band playing as loudly and powerfully as they could. That first kickoff really put everyone, from fans to players, in the zone to enjoy one amazing game.
Once the Warner Royals got the ball they drove down the field only to be stopped short of scoring a touchdown and having to settle with a 27 yard field goal by Connor Killeen. After which, Warner kicked off and Stetson finally had the chance to get their hands on the ball. It was at this point that Stetson QB Ryan Tentler went to work and completed his first pass to Devon Garnett for a nine-yard gain. Tentler then followed the gain with a 30 yard run setting up Stetson on Warner’s 36 yard line. Even though Tentler put on a great show on the ground, eluding many Warner defensemen, the Hatters had to settle for a 34-yard field goal by LaGamma with 10:53 left in the first quarter which tied up the game at three a piece. When the Royals got the ball back on their next possession they drove down the field with a 14-play drive that seemed as though they would be the first to get some real points on the board. However, Warner’s possession ended when Stetson’s Chris Atkins picked off Andrew Rodriguez’s pass in the end zone ending the scoring threat from Warner. On the next possession Tentler lead the Hatters down the field that ended in a seven-yard touchdown pass to receiver Rob Coggin which, after LaGamma nailed the PAT, put the Hatters up on Warner 10-3.
After Stetson had gained so much momentum going into the latter half of the second quarter, the players on both sides were rushed off the field around the 12:35 mark and the game was cancelled due to a thunderstorm.
This however did not quell the Hatters motivation and determination to beat Warner on their home turf. After nearly a 20 hour weather delay, the game that should have been completed on Saturday night was continued on a hot and humid Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. Once play resumed, Warner got the ball back but due to a bad snap from the Royals Travis Espich, the ball sailed over the QBs head and rolled into the end zone where defensive back Donald Payne for Stetson snagged the ball for a defensive touchdown which put Stetson on top 17-3. The next two possessions from both squads went uneventful until Stetson forced Warner to punt. During the punt receiver Keegan Tanner was able to get his hand on the ball forcing to go only 17 yards, putting the Hatters in prime field position. However, on the next possession the Hatters were unable to produce a score. When the first half was coming to a close the Hatters were facing a fourth and goal at Warner’s eight yard line. It was at this point that Stetson kicking unit came onto the field to tack on another three for the Hatters. However, placeholder Nick LaSala took the snap and pitched the ball back to LaGamma who punched though the Royals defense before diving into the end zone shocking not only Warner but the entire stadium with a special teams score, putting Stetson up 24-3 on Warner.
Once the second half rolled around Stetson played solid defense not allowing Warner to get in the end zone or score a field goal. At the same time, Stetson’s Ryan Tentler and Rob Coggin teamed up for a second touchdown pass which was a 32-yard completion into the front right corner of the end zone. Those seven points were the only scored by either team in the second half and at the end of the game coach Robert Hughes was a given a well deserved ice shower.
At the end of those two long days QB Tentler threw for 169 yards and two touchdowns and was 17-for-24 passing the ball and was also the Hatters leading rushed with 62 yards on seven carries.
I can easily say I am was extremely impressed with not only how Stetson’s football team handled the weather delay but how well they played and just how much fun they looked like they were having on the field that day. All in all, Stetson earned a much deserved win that was 57 years in the waiting and showed that through thick and thin the boys can keep their minds on the game and come out with the ‘W’.