Playing at the halfway mark of the season, the Defiance College football team still seeks that elusive first win of the year. The offense played its best game of the year, but once again the Yellow Jackets fell behind early and could never battle all the back in falling at Anderson 56-29 to drop Defiance to 0-4 overall and 0-1 in the Heartland College Athletic Conference.
The Jackets had 440 yards of offense in the loss, but were stung by four turnovers.
“It was better,” Defiance coach Manny Matsakis said of the offense. “Throughout the game, we were moving the ball well. Early in the game, we just couldn’t get it in the endzone. We got behind the chains with how well they were playing on offense.”
Quarterback Reggie Washington continued to grow. He was 12 of 30 passing for 132 yards and a touchdown, plus ran seven times for 23 yards.
Receiver Terry Geiger hauled in seven passes for 78 yards and Amin Shaheed caught five passes for 69 yards.
“I liked what I saw from Reggie and the whole receiver corps,” admitted Matsakis. “I think the kids on offense are greatly improved.”
When the game began to get out of hand, Matsakis made a change at quarterback. Sophomore Cole Recker entered and completed 10 of 21 passes for 130 yards with two interceptions.
“It was more of putting a guy back there who is more of a passer because the option wasn’t really an option at that point,” said Matsakis. “We had to try to get back in it. We’ve felt comfortable with putting Cole in before. We felt it was good for him to get more reps. He did a nice job, considering he didn’t get a lot of reps in practice. I thought he did a good job of throwing the ball for us.”
The running attack was led by freshman Jalen Wilkins, who saw action for the first time this season. He ran for 113 yards, including an 89-yard TD run. Freshman Camerone Harris became the short-yardage guy, getting scores of one and nine yards. He also fumbled the ball once.
“If we can just run our offense, we should have been able to match them score for score,” said Matsakis. “It wasn’t like they did something so tremendous to stop us. It was us making an error that is very fixable. That’s what we worked on this week.”
The defense was again put in some tough spots. Anderson threw for 417 yards and added 243 on the ground in a 56-29 decision.
“We’ve never left fundamentals, we just have to emphasize them more,” Matsakis said of the Yellow Jacket defense. “It’s things that require no talent. Line up right, know your assignment and realize its about assignment and technique. If you get effort, you can control that. Assignment is mental and you can control that. The rest of it is keep working your craft and get your technique up. That’s the one thing that takes time.”
One bright spot was freshman defensive lineman Damon Thomas. Seeing his first significant minutes of the year, he tallied two sacks in the contest to take the team lead.
“Right now, we’re hurting a little numbers-wise at the defensive line position,” mentioned Matsakis. “We’ve got to find more ways than just the line to get pressure. I may bring a corner blitz or something. Whatever I can do to add one more guy to their protection.”
Matsakis will need that kind of effort against the pass-happy Lions of Mt. St. Joseph’s. The Cincinnati-based school improved to 3-0 and 1-0 in the HCAC with a 50-27 win at Franklin.
The Lions beat Franklin for the first time since 2009.
“They are really good,” Matsakis said of MSJ. “They are a very talented, disciplined and mature. You could see that in the way they handled Franklin. Historically, Franklin has been a champion of the league.”
Quarterback Chaiten Thomas runs the show for the Lions. Through three games, he has completed 81 of 124 passes for 1,023 yards with 12 touchdowns and only one interception.
On the year, the Lions average 341 yards a game passing and 68 on the ground.
Thomas has a stable of receivers to throw to. Four players have caught at least 10 passes so far this season.
“They are disciplined and their route running is good,” said Matsakis. “They have big guys up front. They have a great offensive line. I’ve always said whoever has the best offensive line usually wins the game.”
Once again, the plan for the Yellow Jackets is to play keep-away football against the powerful Lions.
“Once again, it runs away from you if you get behind,” Matsakis said of trying to stay in games early. “The plan is to go in and slow it down enough to make it a close game. If it goes in that direction, we’ll continue that. There is no reason to elevate our tempo if it’s working.”
Kickoff at Schueler Field is 1:30 Saturday.