By ANDY WOLF
Tyler Lee didn’t get to finish last year’s Week 11 de facto conference championship game at Ohio Dominican.
The University of Findlay junior cornerback exited early with an injury, leaving inexperienced and youthful reserves to try and patch the secondary.
It didn’t singlehandedly lose the Oilers the Great Midwest Athletic Conference title but played a huge factor in the Panthers scoring six of their seven touchdowns via long passing plays in a 49-24 win.
All six ODU passing touchdowns covered at least 29 yards.
“It hurt me seeing my team work hard all regular season and then we get to the point we want, which is the GMAC championship, and I end up going out,” Lee said. “(We) switch our whole defense and things just weren’t the same after that.”
ODU came away with the conference hardware but UF got chosen for the Division II playoffs instead.
Both teams, picked to finish one-two in the GMAC again, are 2-1 overall entering Saturday’s 7 p.m. clash at Donnell Stadium.
“We feel like we have to get this one,” Lee said. “If not then, we feel like, coming from last year we didn’t get to avenge ourselves.”
Lee knows all about the playoff implications it could have again.
The Week 11 loss only cost UF a home playoff game.
The injury cost Lee the rest of his season, missing both postseason games.
“It sucked. Without a doubt, if we had our regular defense I feel like we could’ve taken it all the way,” Lee said.
So far, Findlay won its only conference game 69-19 over Kentucky Wesleyan in Week 1.
The GMAC outlook took a huge shakeup on Saturday when Hillsdale went into Columbus and delivered the defending champs a 34-18 loss.
Here are four more things to know for Saturday’s game:
COACHING TIES: ODU head coach Kelly Cummings has spent more time on UF’s sideline at Donnell than the visitor’s side.
That’s because he served as defensive coordinator at Findlay from 2006-10.
Rob Keys began his tenure as UF’s head coach the following season.
Cummings is in his third year as head coach after serving as defensive coordinator since 2013.
Cummings’ wife, Kate, also coached UF’s women’s basketball team from 2006-13, guiding the Oilers to two NCAA tournament appearances.
QB SHAKEUP: ODU starting quarterback Shane Bucenell didn’t return in the Hillsdale game after fumbling on a fourth-and-1 run late in the second quarter.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound transfer from Division I Charleston Southern has thrown for 491 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions.
Backup and redshirt freshman Evan Ernst threw for 284 yards and two touchdowns but three interceptions in a little over two quarters of relief against Hillsdale.
Whichever quarterback starts against UF, Keys knows his defense has to take care of what it can control.
“You prepare to stop anybody you’re going to face,” Keys said. “Both are very talented. (Bucenell) is athletic, he’s elusive, he extends plays. (Ernst) I thought he did a really good job throwing and running the ball as well.”
TURNOVER BATTLE: Lee said the Oilers are “unsatisfied” with only three turnovers, two defensive — one in each game.
“Compared to last year, we had a lot of turnovers so we’re trying to pick it back up, take it week by week,” he said.
Lee has Findlay’s only interception.
While more turnovers is a goal, reaching it will be a byproduct of getting back to “Oiler football” according to Lee.
And what does that entail?
“Confidence; reading our keys fast, quick, easy and just getting the game,” Lee said.
RECEIVING THREATS: Keys showed high praise for ODU’s highly productive receiving corps.
“One of the better receiving corps we’re going to face all year,” he said. “They are so complete.
“…It’s going to be a big challenge for us because they’ve hurt us in the past with the big plays with some of those guys.”
Senior Cory Contini (6-1, 195) leads the way with 223 yards, 16 catches and four scores this season.
In the past two games against UF, he’s totaled 275 yards and five touchdowns on 13 catches.
He toasted the UF secondary for scores of 75 and 60 yards last year.
Devanaire Conliffe (6-2, 220) added a pair of 35-yard touchdown catches in the fourth quarter to ice ODU’s victory.
David Turner (5-9, 175) also has big-play capability, totaling 909 yards and seven scores last season.
“They have three really good wide receivers but we go against Jason Moore every day,” Lee said. “It’s nothing we haven’t seen anymore.”
Moore, a preseason All-American by numerous publications, has yet to play this season.
Junior Andrew Ogletree (6-6, 240) also hasn’t played since leaving the opener with an injury.
Redshirt freshman Kijana Caldwell and senior transfer Peter Norris have stepped up their game in their absence.
Both in their first year of action, Caldwell has a team-high 13 catches (143 yards) while Norris leads with 228 yards on 12 grabs.
Keys said Norris, a Bowling Green State transfer, didn’t arrive on campus until August.
“Both of those kids have done a really good job of growing in the first three games,” Keys said.
Football: Lee, UF gearing up for ODU
By ANDY WOLF