Football cruises to conference title
Toreros put on an offensive clinic to trounce Davidson College and claim Pioneer League crown
Eric Boose | Contributor | The USD Vista
The University of San Diego has long been considered the class of the Pioneer Football League (PFL). A non-scholarship conference in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), the league largely features schools on the East Coast that are better known for basketball than their play on the gridiron. The set-up has historically allowed USD to ride a geographic advantage — the Toreros are the only PFL team in the western half of the United States — and a pipeline of talent from the local prep ranks to a domination of the conference in recent years.
After Saturday’s proceedings, the 2017 season can be best seen as a simple continuation of that superiority on the field.
The Toreros produced a school-record 706 total yards of offense in a 63-7 road win over the Davidson College Wildcats. With the win, the Toreros clinched their fourth straight PFL title as well as an automatic berth in the FCS playoffs while running their conference winning streak to 20 consecutive games.
The team was led by redshirt junior quarterback Anthony Lawrence, who finished with 403 passing yards and three touchdowns, but Lawrence was far from the only contributor to the victory. Five different Toreros — including senior defensive end Jonathan Petersen — scored rushing touchdowns on the day. Through the air, USD came within a yard of three different players — senior Justin Priest, sophomore Michael Bandy, and redshirt senior Ross Dwelley — going for over 100 receiving yards.
The Torero offense got the ball to begin the game and put together a promising drive, only to have it stall around midfield. Davidson marched to San Diego’s 26-yard line, where junior linebacker Marcus Vaivao stopped Davidson running back Wesley Dugger on third and fourth down.
After the turnover on downs, Lawrence connected with tight end Ross Dwelley for 58 yards before junior running back Joseph Binda’s 17-yard touchdown run gave the Toreros a 7-0 lead.
On their next drive, San Diego marched down the field, going 59 yards in 11 plays. Lawrence found Priest, who made an excellent catch in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown and a 14-0 advantage.
San Diego added to their lead with a dominant second quarter, as the Toreros ran 23 plays for 223 yards of offense while dominating time of possession. Blake Martin’s rushing touchdown capped a 65-yard drive for the Toreros, who finished the game with 279 yards rushing as a team.
Five minutes later, Emilio Martinez became the fourth of nine different Toreros to reach the end zone on the day. San Diego got the ball back again with a minute and 29 seconds left, and went 71 yards in six plays to score with Lawrence finding Dwelley for an eight-yard touchdown with five seconds left in the half.
Up 35-0 at halftime, San Diego went into the break feeling like one hand was already wrapped around the PFL trophy.
However, Davidson came out of the locker room a different team. Wildcats’ running back Wesley Dugger broke free for a 68-yard run, forcing USD’s senior safety, Colton Giorgi, to make a touchdown-saving tackle at the two-yard line. Two plays later, Davidson quarterback Tyler Phelps found wide receiver William Wicks for a four-yard score, and the Wildcats were on the board.
Any thought of a potential comeback was short-lived, however. With Davidson looking to get back in the game, the Torero offense responded quickly. Lawrence found receiver Michael Bandy for 21 yards and 25 yards on consecutive passes to cap off a 62-yard touchdown drive.
On Davidson’s next drive, the Torero defense returned to their first-half quality of play. Davidson gained only 48 yards on the two drives following their touchdown, and managed only 316 yards of total offense on the day – less than half of San Diego’s total.
Bandy’s touchdown put the game out of reach, but the Torero offense was not done. Lawrence orchestrated another touchdown drive, with senior defensive end Jonathan Petersen doing the heavy lifting on the goal line. Petersen took three tries, but he smashed his way into the end zone for his first collegiate score.
With San Diego leading 49-7 after three quarters, many Torero starters were rested for the final quarter. Lawrence finished with 24 completions on 28 attempts for 403 yards and three touchdowns. Emilio Martinez ended the afternoon with 66 yards and a touchdown on 14 rushing attempts, while Joseph Binda finished with seven attempts, 41 yards, and a score.
With the starters out, the fourth quarter began slowly, with two San Diego punts before Davidson marched down to the goal line.
With Davidson on the one-yard line though, the Torero defense stopped four straight runs to keep the Wildcats out of the end zone. Four plays later, backup quarterback Alex Farina took a designed quarterback run 87 yards to the end zone.
The USD defense had no problem handling the Davidson offense, but it took until the closing stages of the game for San Diego to force a turnover.
Usual running back Blake Martin intercepted Davidson’s backup signal-caller, Taylor Mitchell, with just under five minutes remaining to set up one more drive for San Diego. Farina took advantage, hitting freshman wide receiver Alex Spadone for a final score in a convincing victory over the Wildcats.
With the win, San Diego mathematically guaranteed their sixth PFL championship in seven years. Along with the PFL title, the Toreros gained automatic qualification to the FCS playoffs. San Diego is the first FCS team to book a spot in the playoffs this season.
While the Toreros are not guaranteed a home playoff game, fifth-year head coach Dale Lindsey was still vocal about his enthusiasm to compete in the postseason in interviews with local media after the game.
“Our goal every year is to win the PFL Championship and earn a trip to the playoffs,” Lindsey said. “Going into the season we knew we had a lot of new pieces to make that happen again. We had great leadership from our seniors throughout the season and had a core group of freshmen that played a key role in our success. I couldn’t be happier for our players, coaching staff, and school that we are heading back to the playoffs.”
The Toreros have played only three FCS playoff games in their history, and have historically struggled against teams from schools that offer scholarships for football.
However, last season’s upset win over Cal Poly, the first by a non-scholarship school against a scholarship program in FCS history, provides some level of optimism that more playoff success could be on the horizon for USD.
The Toreros play their final regular season game at home against the Marist Red Foxes at 2 p.m. on Saturday.