The Illinois State football team lived up to its billing as one of the best FCS teams in the country Saturday by beating the University of Dayton 56-14 in the season opener for both teams. The Redbirds, ranked 19 th by the Sports Network and 20 th in the AFCA poll, gained 32 first downs while limiting UD to eight.
ISU scored the first 21 points of the game. Dayton got on the board when Gary Hunter returned a punt 77 yards for his third career special teams touchdown. It was the longest Flyer punt return since Ryan Wrobleski returned a punt 86 yards for a score against Valparaiso on Oct. 22, 2005.
After leading at halftime 21-7, Illinois State scored another unanswered 21 points. Dayton then came up with its only sustained drive of the day, a seven-play, 80-yard possession that ended with a 17-yard pass from Will Bardo to Branden Johnson.
The Redbirds scored 14 points in the fourth quarter to make the final 56-14.
ISU wore down the Dayton defense with a time-of-possession advantage of 37:42 to 22:18 and out-gained the Flyers 510-163.
Bardo was seven of 21 passing for 101 yards. Johnson caught four passes for 37 yards. Dan Jacob was UD’s top ground gainer with seven carries for 30 yards. Hunter caught one pass for 47 yards, along with the 77-yard punt return and 26 yards in kickoff return yardage. His 150 all-purpose yards were more than half of the Flyers’ 275 all-purpose yards.
Defensively, linebacker Colin Monnier led UD with 12 tackles, with two coming in behind the line. Cornerbacks Kyle Sebetic and Howard Savage each had 10. Sebetic had seven solo hits and broke up two passes.
Redshirt freshman punter Kyle Pignatiello averaged 42.1 yards a punt with three of his eight punts inside the opponent 20.
Dayton remains on the road next week, traveling to Pittsburgh to take on the Duquesne Dukes.