Now that summer camp is out of the way, the Defiance College football team is ready to play games that count, and that starts with a trip to Albion College to face the Britons.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in training camp,” Defiance College coach Manny Matsakis said of the summer. “Typical for a young team, they start to regress a little. We had to go back to fundamentals. They are just so excited to play the game on Saturday they forget their assignments. They want to go hit somebody and make a play.”
The two teams met in the season opener a year ago, a game where Albion defeated the Yellow Jackets 59-6. Albion went on to a 7-3 season in 2018.
“The stats are what they are,” Matsakis said of the game last year. “They were ugly. They are an established program who is picked in the top two or three in their league, which the top two or three in their league would win our league.”
This is the first of two games against the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association. After the trip to Albion, the Yellow Jackets will head to Hope.
Hope was picked to win the MIAA, with Albion picked in a tie for second with Trine.
“For whatever reason, this is who we chose to schedule, them and Hope,” Matsakis said of the first two games of the year. “That’s great, lets play the best teams from the other conference.”
Junior quarterback Kyle Thomas is back for the Britons. Last year, he threw for 2,435 yards with 27 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He was also third on the team with 559 yards on the ground and nine scores. In the game last year, he threw for 267 yards and four scores.
“Our coaches have spent long hours getting our guys lined up against it,”Matsakis said of preparing for the Albion offense. “It’s a heavy run-pass option. Last year they torched us throwing the ball. They were trying to run the ball but the way our defense was set up, we gave the pass to the run. Their quarterback would zone read it, it was ugly. We’re trying to be a little more creative in the way we go about it. They had 600 yards of offense last year, that’s a lot of yards.”
On the flip side, Defiance will face an Albion defense that allowed more than 400 yards a game.
“They are built like a Big XII team,” admitted Matsakis. “It’s a high-octane offense and a defense that needs to step up at the right time. That’s what it is.”
The strength of the Briton defense is in the front seven. Junior defense end Mitchell Arendsen returns after recording 10.5 sacks in 2018, which placed him in the top-20 nationally at the Division III level.
Linebackers Levi Ladd (68 tackles), Donovan Slates (63) and Quinten Jackson (59) are all back as well.
“We’re breaking in a brand new quarterback, four brand new linemen and two receivers,” Matsakis said of facing the Briton defense. “Eight of our starters were not here playing for us in the spring. It’s that young, that inexperienced. I’m cautious about where we’re going with this. We just need to course-correct as the game goes on.”
Matsakis is hoping him and his staff can keep the Yellow Jackets in the game.
“We have to stay focused on what we do, not worry too much on what they are doing,” said the second-year coach. “We’ll make adjustments throughout the game. We’re going to stand in the way and see what we can do.
“We want to make sure we observe things properly from the press box,” continued Matsakis. “We (need) to make the right corrections series-by-series throughout the game, so it doesn’t get away from us. They are good enough to have the game totally be a runaway.”
The Yellow Jackets plan to take their time with the ball and limit what the Britons can do.
“I think we have to be methodical at what we do,” closed Matsakis. “(We) have to do the little things to exploit the chinks in their armor as we find them.
“We have to make sure we are sound and don’t make coaching errors. We understand there is going to be mistakes made in the game. We have to make as few as possible. That’ll give our guys the best chance. Sometimes, when the underdog like us comes out successful, it’s because of momentum at some point in the game and you start believing.”
Kickoff Saturday at Albion is at 6 p.m.