Dayton football trying to make more history
Appeal Sports Writer
As the Dayton Dust Devils travel to California and head into their first-place battle with Truckee today at Surprise Stadium, they do so with the knowledge that they’ve never defeated the Wolverines.
Then again, over the last two seasons Dayton, 2-0 in the Northern 3A and 6-0 overall, has accomplished several things for the first time.
Last year the Dust Devils made it to the postseason for the second consecutive season – a school first. Dayton, which lost to Virgin Valley in the state semifinals, also won its first ever playoff game.
Before this season a Dayton team had never even started off 3-0, so with each successive week the Dust Devils have managed to go where none of its predecessors have gone.
So pardon the Dust Devils if they’re not shaking in their cleats by the prospect of facing the eight-time state champion Wolverines, 2-0 in league and 4-2 overall.
“We used to be intimidated (by Truckee),” said senior defensive end/ offensive tackle Brandon Seymour. “Now we’re the ones who intimidate. We haven’t played a bigger team (than themselves) all year. We average between 230-240 pounds across the line. We’ve got big guys.”
Their plan, Seymour said, is as subtle as a speeding freight train.
“Just smack ’em in the mouth,” Seymour said. “That’s what they’ve always done to us. It’s our year. We’re taking them this year.”
Fellow senior Erik Hopper, who last year set a team record with 1,346 yards rushing, 26 touchdowns and 700 receiving yards, uses similar verbiage when talking about the Dust Devils’ sentiments toward their nemesis.
“We’re hoping to come out and smack ’em in the mouth from the first play and let them know we’re there,” said the 6-foot, 175-pound Hopper, who also plays cornerback. “We need to make big plays when we need them. We know it’s going to be a battle. It’s going to come down to big single plays.”
Travis Wood, Dayton’s quarterback/safety/punter, said the dynamics of the matchup have changed.
“Usually (Truckee ) is the most physical team out there,” Wood said. “But this will be a tough game. This year our attitude has changed – especially on the defense. We play great defense. That’s been the theme. We hit them fast.”
That means offensively and defensively.
The 6-foot-3, 180-pound Wood, who last season passed for 2,450 yards and 19 touchdowns, has thrown the ball less this year, but in Dayton’s dramatic 17-10 win over Spring Creek (the Dust Devils scored with one second left) Wood set what is believed to be a state record for any of the four football classifications.
Wood, who started two varsity games as a freshman, now has a record 5,450 yards in career passing and 50 touchdown passes, including six this season.
Joshua Avery, a 5-7, 150-pound bulldog of an outside linebacker, said Dayton’s success is not predicated on individualism.
“Our attitude is that we don’t have any superstars on defense – we have a team,” Avery said. “We have a decent team that comes together. It gets flat at times, but we bring attitude.”
Between several plays during Friday’s practice at Dayton High School, the defense could be heard shouting “Kill.”
“‘Kill’ gets our players jacked up from the beginning play,” Avery said. “Every play we fight, no matter how much we’re down. Fortunately this year we haven’t been down much.”
One of the impressive things about Dayton’s winning streak has been its all-round resilience. In addition to the last-second victory over Spring Creek, Dayton’s dynamic defense was largely responsible for the team’s 14-13 win over Bishop (Calif.) Union, stopping its 2-point conversion when it went for a win instead of a tie after scoring a touchdown late in the game.
Bishop defeated Truckee, 10-0, in the Wolverines’ season opener.
In addition to taking down another California team – Mammoth (27-7) – Dayton also defeated two Northern 4A teams this year, Wooster (20-0) and Damonte Ranch (16-7).
“It’s been something different every time,” said fifth-year Dayton varsity coach Rick Walker. “In the past, we didn’t have defensive turnovers. This is the best it’s ever been this year. We score defensive touchdowns this tear. If we struggle on offense, our defense steps up. When we need to score, we go down and get it. We have a group of 17 seniors. They believe that all of their work is paying off.”
“I think a lot it has to do with our hard work in the summer,” he said. “We had a lot of guys coming back. This year, we’re a lot better defensively than in the past. Defense wins championships. We used to score 40 and give it back. This year we’ve held them to around 10 points average.”
Or as Seymour, a 6-foot-4, 270-pound brick house says, “The team comes together whenever it comes to crunch time.”
Avery said it also comes down to Dayton’s never-say-die attitude.
“Our team has a lot of heart,” Avery said. “‘We’ve overcome every hurdle, every challenge, just to win. We’ve overcome injuries and sickness for wins. We’ve overcome burdens and we were able to win convincingly. That goes back to playing like a team, gelling like a team each week.”
The operative word, Walker pointed out, is “team.”
“One thing about our team, when they tell you they are a team, they are a team,” Walker said. “I’ve yet to hear a kid say anything about his playing time or what he’s doing.”
Walker said from Wood and Seymour, to Hopper and Avery, it all starts with the leadership of Dayton’s 17 seniors. And size doesn’t necessarily have everything to do with it.
“”Josh Avery, at middle linebacker, has been fantastic this year,” Walker said. “He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s got heart and gets it done. (Defensive end) Dadin Goodwill, at 180, he’s not really big, but he’s one of those guys whose motor never stops running.
“Hopper can catch the ball and run the ball. It’s smarter to use him that way. When he’s in motion (other teams) adjust to him, concentrate on him. He’s a huge threat that we use as a decoy.”
Sprinkle in other players, whatever their size, like 225-pound defensive tackle Jacob Jackson, 230-pound defensive tackle Sam Armstrong, defensive tackle/offensive tackle Robbie Bell and wideout James Yeater, and Dayton stacks up well against anyone – including Truckee.
“It goes through Truckee this weekend,” Walker said. “It will be a big league battle. There are two undefeated teams left. One game at a time we’re getting there. I feel like we match up with them as well as we ever have. The kids are pretty loose and excited to go out and get it done.”
Asked if they had a shot at beating Truckee, Hopper, Wood, Seymour and Avery looked at each other for about two seconds and answered in unison: “No doubt.”
What wasn’t discussed is Truckee’s injury bug. The Wolverines will be without senior running back Drew Stewart, defensive back Sam Silver and junior defensive tackle J.D. Wright.
Kyler Coxson, a senior linebacker, is questionable with an injured hamstring, and Tucker Nevin, Stewart’s backup, missed some practice and will miss the first quarter.
Walker also downplayed any homefield advantage Truckee might enjoy.
“We’ve had closer games at their house than ours,” Walker said. “Travis’ first year as a freshman, we lost 30-20. But I watched them play Bishop live. They didn’t have two backs that are playing now. Things have changed a bit, obviously.
“They are solid in every aspect of the game, including special teams. They’re physical. They’re one of the most physical teams. In the past, we haven’t matched that. Their intensity has always overcome us.”
In addition to seeking it’s first ever win over Truckee, Dayton will find out today if it can overcome that little bit of psychological history as well.