A youthful Defiance College gridiron program will get initiated into college football against an Albion College squad that is expected to challenge for a playoff berth come November.
Second-year DC leadman Manny Matsakis will take a bunch of new faces – players and coaches – north Saturday for the first fracas of the season. Toe will be put to leather at 6 p.m. at iconic Sprankle-Sprandel Stadium on Saturday evening.
Defiance’s traveling squad will include 59 players, of which only 10 are returnees. Meanwhile, Albion is considered among the MIAA title contenders with Trine behind preseason pick Hope, where DC is slated to travel to next Saturday.
“We’ll have to play flawlessly to keep this close going into the fourth quarter,” said Matsakis, who finished 1-9 in his first year at the helm of the Jackets. “It’s let see how well these newcomers can assimilate into the culture of college football here, and do our best to make corrections early in the game so it doesn’t run away from us. That’s what happened last year.”
Last year’s meeting at DC was a complete mismatch in every facet of the game. The Britons (7-3 last fall) jumped out to a 14-0 lead before Defiance scored its only points 1:23 into the second stanza.
The statistics were as lopsided as the 59-6 tally on the scoreboard.
Albion rolled up 600 yard of offense to 194 for the hosts. The Britons posted 390 yards passing and netted 5.4 yards per rush attempt on 39 totes.
“My biggest concern is they’re a team sitting there with a loaded team coming back,” said Matsakis. “When they’re that good, they have a ton of veterans. They beat us 59-6 last year and it was concerning. If you look at the statistics, there was nothing good. We won the time of possession and that’s all we won, which really didn’t matter.”
The Britons have a new sideline general with Dustin Beurer taking over the head coaching role after Craig Rundle retired. Rundle spent 22 years leading the Britons and led them to the five playoff appearances.
Beurer spent 10 seasons as an assistant for Rundle and served as offensive coordinator since 2013.
The Albion offense is expected to be dynamic again this fall. Albion averaged 44.1 points per game in 2018 and 534 yards per game. The Britons were formidable in the air and on the ground, averaging 269 passing yards per game and 265 rushing yards per Saturday.
Four linemen are back to protect three-year starting QB Kyle Thomas (183-320, 2,435 yards, 27 touchdows, 10 interceptions). Senior tailback Markell McCoy (779 yards, 5 touchdowns) was the second-leading ground gainer last year.
Kolby Canfield (27 catches, 386 yards), Marlon Martin (21 receptions, 317 yards) and Justin Thomas (35 catches, 510 yards) return as wideouts.
The Jackets’ biggest strength defensively will be their athleticism says Matsakis.
Senior bookend Austin Pearish is back to anchor the defensive line. Freshman Dennis Dust will man the other end spot while sophomore Quantrez Pittman and sophomore Rigo Villa are expected to start on the interior.
Senior Derek Angelone will start at linebacker with two freshmen: Kenneth Hatch (Memphis) and Ahmad Burroughs (Irvington, NJ).
Machari Bighams (So.) and Carlens Elisias (Jr.) will start at corner with Braxton Horton (Jr.) and Steven Lucas (Jr.) rounding out the secondary at the safety spots.
“Coach (Michael) Starkey (defensive coordinator) and the (defensive) staff are at a point where we have to create some confusion on their end because last year what happened was they threw for so many yards on us,” said Matsakis. “But most of those throws were off of RPOs. They were trying to run the ball and we were trying to take the run away, but they were just gashing us by catching the ball eight yards down field, then breaking a tackle and going 30 yards. It’s going to be trying to do our best to put some doubt in that quarterback’s mind of when to pull it and when to give it. We’ll have to change up his reads and rally to the ball.”
Matsakis is optimistic his offense will get cranking this year after averaging 12.2 ppg and 257 yards per game in 2018.
“I would say first and foremost, we’re faster, we’re a bigger squad … so coming off the bus we’re going to look like a football team,” said Matsakis. “But with all that said, we’re still young. We have as many newcomers as we had total roster last year.”
Reggie Washington, a sophomore from Laurel, Md., will be the maestro of the offense after transferring from Dordt College. He will have a talented receiving corps at his disposal with Jacob Vorce (39 catches, 507 yards) and Jason Santora (30 catches, 410 yards) back for their senior seasons after solid junior campaigns.
Muskingum College transfers Terry Geiger and Amin Shaheed will look to showcase their speed at the other starting wideout spots.
Devon Hewitt (Jr, Trenton, NJ) and freshman Camerone Harris (Canton, Miss.) are the favorites to carry the ball out of the superback spot.
In the pits, Chris Keys will be a veteran force at left tackle along with fellow senior Matt Groves (6-0, 280) at left guard while rookies Omar Lagarde (C, 5-11, 250), Izaiah Robinson (LG, 6-2, 290) and Tavor Carson-Payton (RT, 6-1, 265) round out the trenchmen.
“I think in the system we have, it’s geared to throw the ball, Matsakis said. “However, we have to be able to establish a run game. We can’t be sitting there with three-and-outs because they’re (Albion) going to be going really fast with their offense. We’re going to have to put ourselves in situations where we can convert third downs and make a bunch of first downs. When we do get into the red zone, we need to put ourselves in good positions. When we do have to punt, we need to flip the field.”
Albion’s most dangerous defender is Mitchell Arendsen, who finished 18th in the nation with 10.5 sacks. The Britons return two more starters up front along with a pair of returning starters at linebacker and in the secondary.
The Britons allowed 416.5 yards per game last autumn and just under 30 ppg.
Andres Riley-Clark (Fr, Copperas Cove, Texas) will handle the kicking duties for DC while Vorce will punt. Bighams and Shaheed will return kicks and Geiger will bring back punts.