There was the 10-point rally in the final six minutes to beat San Diego. Then there was the 27-point fourth quarter last week to seal the win over Drake.
On Saturday, the Dolphins (9-3, 7-1 PFL) topped them all by scoring 19 points in the final 11 minutes to take home their first Pioneer Football League championship with a 19-14 win over Dayton (9-3, 6-2 PFL).
The biggest win in the 11-year history of the program came in front of the largest crowd in school history – 5,263, extending the Dolphins record-setting win streak to seven games.
Geavon Tribble’s 7-yard touchdown run on a reverse with five minutes to go but the Dolphins on top for the first time in the game.
But it wasn’t until Bryan Valdez’s second interception of the game ended Dayton’s last ditch drive and gave the Dolphins the title – one of four picks made by the Dolphin defense.
“I’m so proud of these kids and the heart they showed today in winning this game,” said JU head coach Kerwin Bell. “Our defense made a lot of plays for us today and kept us in it. We made just enough plays on offense to win it.”
A year ago, JU finished 3-8 and in a tie for sixth place in the PFL. This year, the Dolphins have improved its record by six games and won its first title after being picked to finish fifth in the league.
“This is just a great feeling for our kids and for everyone involved in this entire program,” Bell said. “There have been a lot of people who have put in a lot of hours and hard work to get us to this point, but it is truly sweet to be called champions.”
Trailing 14-0 to start the fourth quarter and looking for some big play to turn the momentum back their way, the defense made the first big play of the game as Allen Fennell picked off a Rob Florian pass and returned it 14 yards to the one-yard line.
Two plays later, Josh McGregor scored from a yard out to cut the deficit to 14-6. Donovan Curry missed the extra point, putting the Dolphins in a precarious situation.
After a three-and-out by Dayton, Elliott Finkley went to work – returning his third punt back for a touchdown to this season, this one from 54 yards, pulling the Dolphins within two, 14-12.
An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was accessed on the celebration and the two-point conversion pass from the 17-yard line came up short, keeping the Flyers on top with 10:18 remaining.
The JU defense stepped up with another 3-and-out, giving the offense a short field at the Dayton 37-yard line. Seven plays later, Tribble scored on the double reverse to put the Dolphins on top for the first time, 19-14, with five minutes remaining.
Dayton did not go away quietly – answering with a march down to the JU 25-yard line before Oscar Johnson picked off Florian to cut their drive short.
JU ran two minutes off the clock, but were forced to punt the ball away – giving the Flyers just 63 seconds to drive 73 yards. Dayton got 24 of those yards, but Florian was picked off one last time – this one by Valdez with 36 second left to give the Dolphins the title.
Jason Wood led the defensive effort for JU with nine tackles and two breakups, with Shaun Lewis adding five tackles, including two sacks and three tackles for a loss. JU held the Flyers to just 60 yards rushing while picking off four passes.
The JU offense had a slow day, amassing only 316 yards, with 141 of that coming on the ground. Rudell Small led JU with 85 rushing yards on 23 carries and McGregor had 32 yards on nine carries.
The aerial attack was responsible for 175 yards, with McGregor hitting 16-of-28 while throwing two interceptions – his first in 10 games.
With the win, JU’s season will continue as they travel to New York to face the champions of the Northeast Conference, Albany, on Dec. 6 in the third-annual Gridiron Classic.