PFL powerhouses square off at JU
The Dolphin defense has been ganging up on runners of late.
The Dolphin defense has been ganging up on runners of late.
When is a grudge match a grudge match but not really a grudge match?

When Dayton and Jacksonville University play Saturday at 1 p.m. at D. B. Milne Field. The Flyers and Dolphins shared the Pioneer Football League title last season but never got to play each other. This week’s game could be an interesting end to that season.

“From the eyes of fans, they are looking at who is the real champion,’’ JU coach Kerwin Bell said this week. “Visually, it would be like I take my ring off and throw it to mid field and they take their ring off an throw it to mid field and whoever wins grabs the other’s rings … that’s what it really stands for.’’

More importantly, the game with the two teams that have either won or shared the PFL title each year since 2007 could go a long way in deciding this year’s race.

Dayton (3-2, 1-1) is coming off a tough and rare home loss to Butler last week and JU is only a game ahead with a 2-0 PFL mark (3-2 overall) as it starts a three-game home stand after four road trips in its first five games. The Dolphins have a 13-game PFL winning streak and a 10-game home win streak.

“This is going to be a hungry team,’’ Bell said. “Dayton doesn’t lose many games and they’re coming off a loss. It’s going to be do or die for them in the conference championship.’’

The JU defense, according to Bell, is going to have to stop the Dayton running game which is led by running back Taylor Harris (324 yards) and quarterback Will Bardo (202) yards and the run defense has rebounded just in time.

In the first three games, JU allowed an average of 273.6 rushing yards per game and in the past two games has allowed only 79.5 per game including a stellar effort in last week’s 21-9 win when Marist ran for only 28 yards on 27 carries.

Many of the early issues had to do with injuries and at one point the JU linebacking corps was down to its fourth stringer leading the unit. Eight Dolphin defenders who have had at least four starts each have been lost for all or part of the season.

“Our number one thing is to stop the run. When we get into conference play this is what we find because many teams are a little afraid of our vertical passing game and try to control the ball.’’ Bell said. “We can’t let Bardo beat us with his feet.’’

Offensively, the Dolphins can expect more of what Marist offered and that’s plenty of people in the second and third levels to help stop the passing game.

JU quarterback Josh McGregor has thrown for 1,219 yards and 10 touchdowns this season and is completing passes at a 57 percent clip. Wide receiver Josh Philpart has caught 26 passes for 371 yards and three TDs and wide receiver Larry Thompson 14 for 252 yards. Thompson has a streak of 25 consecutive games in which he has at least one reception.

On the rushing side, running back J.J. Laster, who scored all three touchdowns last week, has six on the year and 333 yards rushing.

Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. with the game being telecast on CW17 with Cole Pepper and Joel Lamp on the call. It also will be broadcast on 1010XL radio with Terry Norvelle on the play by play. ON the radio side, the Bono’s Barbeque Pregame Show starts at 12:30 p.m.

-- Jim Nasella