The Hatters will host Louisiana on Saturday after missing nearly a week of practice.
After nine long months, it’s finally time for the Stetson football home-opener … again.
One week after Hurricane Dorian canceled Stetson’s original opener against Presbyterian, the Hatters are set to host Louisiana College on Saturday to officially begin the 2019 season.
“It’ll be nice to get back to normal,” said head coach Roger Hughes. “We’re looking forward to this one.”
Hughes and the Hatters are no strangers to weather interruptions. Last season, Hurricane Florence canceled Stetson’s Week 3 trip to Presbyterian. Two years ago, the Hatters were stranded in upstate New York while Hurricane Irma ripped through Florida. Hurricane Matthew wreaked havoc on all area sporting events back in 2016.
The difference this time, Hughes said, is that the Hatters will still play a game despite having limited practice on Thursday and Friday. Louisiana, meanwhile, has had nearly two weeks to prepare for Saturday’s showdown.
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“In the previous times we’ve been away when the hurricanes have hit, so we didn’t really lose any practice time,” he said. “The complexity of the game-plans on both sides of the ball can’t be too much because you don’t have a lot of time to lock everything in. It’s going to be a huge game of adjustments.”
Starting quarterback Gaven DeFilippo stayed in DeLand during the storm, spending most of his time pouring over game film and communicating back and forth with the rest of his offense, which was scattered throughout the country.
The redshirt senior said he expects the Hatters to be sound mentally on Saturday, but it could take some time to get back into the physical mindset.
“You can watch film and see where you’re supposed to be,” he said. “But there’s a different speed associated with actually taking that step with someone else hitting you at the same time. The physicality of it is something you can’t simulate.”
Behind enemy lines
The Division III Wildcats are a member of the American Southwest Conference, and are coming off a 5-5 season that included a 78-0 loss to Division I Alcorn State, and an 80-7 loss to conference powerhouse Mary Hardin-Baylor. The Wildcats did manage a 5-4 record and fifth-place finish in their conference.
Senior running back Aaron Woods led Louisiana with 287 yards and four touchdowns last season, but the Wildcats will need to replace leading receiver Drake Battaglia (859 yards, nine touchdowns) and quarterback Mason Jordan (1,936 yards, 18 touchdowns).
Defensively, junior linebacker Julius Johnson is back after recording 86 tackles and three forced fumbles in 2018, but the Wildcats will be looking to replace several starters in the defensive secondary.
Matchup to watch
The Hatters’ biggest problem on Saturday will be themselves. The game-plan could be vanilla after missing nearly a week of practice, and the rust could be noticeable, especially early on.
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As Hughes said, the in-game adjustments will be critical. If the Hatters make the right calls they should roll.
It may be close early, but Stetson will find its rhythm in the second quarter and put it on cruise control from there.
Final: Stetson 49, Louisiana 13