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Football: UF defense eyes another strong outing

By ANDY WOLF
STAFF WRITER
Hopes of a second consecutive shutout for the University of Findlay defense flew out the window early in last Saturday’s 47-3 victory over Walsh.
The 50-yard gain on the very first play by the Cavaliers that put them in long field goal range was about the only mental lapse the Oilers had defensively last week.
“We weren’t focused enough at first but I feel like we bounced back, locked in and held them to three,” fifth-year senior defensive lineman Johnny Hopkins said. “We’re happy it wasn’t seven. We’re happy it wasn’t 14 but our aim is (for it) to be zero every week.”
Findlay gets another chance this week as Lake Erie comes to town for a 7 p.m. Great Midwest Athletic Conference matchup at Donnell Stadium.
The Oilers are 4-1 overall, 1-0 in the GMAC while the Storm is 1-4, 1-0.
Hopkins missed all of 2016 after tearing his ACL on a non-contact play two weeks before the opener.
He committed hard to the rehab with the support of his teammates, coaches, and trainers around him.
In his return to the field, Hopkins leads UF with 51/2 tackles for loss, 31/2 sacks and 20 total tackles. He’s also broken up two passes and recovered a fumble.
“I feel like I’m helping us out,” Hopkins said. “It’s all a group effort. Every man is important. We preach one team. I feel like I’m trying my best to do my part as well as everybody on the team.”
After a 48-27 drubbing by then No. 2-ranked Ferris State in Week 2, the defense has turned it up several notches.
They’ve held their previous three opponents to just 224 yards per game and 20 total points.
“As a whole it’s been young guys, old guys, it’s just been all the way around,” Hopkins said. “Whoever is getting hot is getting hot. Who else isn’t is just following their lead.”
Meanwhile the Storm have struggled defensively, surrendering 38.2 points and 444.2 yards per game.
SERIES HISTORY: The two teams met five times as members of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference from 2010-2016.
Findlay went 4-1 in those contests, falling only in 2010 (48-45) — the year before Keys took over.
The Oilers put up the first 41 points in last season’s 58-13 drubbing in Painesville as quarterback Rhys Gervais tied his own school record with five touchdown passes.
Gervais, who missed last week’s game due to a left leg injury, is still day-to-day.
Should he be unavailable again, Adam Bertke is likely to make his second start. Bertke threw three touchdowns passes with 272 yards (14 of 26) and no turnovers in last week’s win over Walsh.
POINTS OF INTEREST: A few weeks ago, UF coach Rob Keys wasn’t satisfied with how many points his team had scored.
After putting up 28 and 27 to begin the season, the Oilers are in their highest three-game scoring stretch ever under Keys at 54.3 per game. The 20 points allowed in the last three games, meanwhile, is also the lowest total yielded by the defense under Keys.
The last UF team to score at least 47 in three straight was the 1997 NAIA national championship squad that averaged 40.5 points per game.
“The thing I’ve liked is the way we’ve controlled the beginnings of games in the last three weeks,” Keys said. “We go out methodically. We’ve scored touchdowns on opening drives. The defense has gone out and got a three-and-out. Then we get the ball back and score another touchdown.”
Lake Erie has only scored 35 points all season.
The Storm erupted for 13 of those in the fourth quarter last week to defeat Alderson Broaddus 16-15 and snap an 18-game losing streak dating back to 2015.
Riley Frederiksen’s 9-yard rushing score with 5:54 remaining gave them their first lead of the season.
“You get that monkey off your back and they’re a very young football team,” Keys said of Lake Erie. “They went through some growing pains early on in the season. You can definitely see improvement on both sides of the ball with them from Week 1 to Week 5.”
BACK ATTACK: Lake Erie doesn’t have a passing touchdown this season despite having chucked the pigskin 158 times between James Moore (46 of 102) and Javarian Smith (33 of 56). That duo has combined to throw seven interceptions.
What it does have is three running backs who average at least four yards per carry.
Sophomore Antwan Harris (279 yards) earns 4.3 ypc on a team-high 65 carries.
Desmon Turner (118) gets 5.6 ypc on his 21 attempts and Kerry Debose (102) puts in 4.1.
“They do a really good job with some zone read option and some misdirection plays,” Keys said. “They get the ball out of the quarterback’s hand quick. Those running backs are very capable.
“They’ve got good speed. They run very hard. You can see it in their average yards per carry. They’ve been very productive.”
UF’s Daouda Sylla leads the GMAC with 658 yards (ninth nationally) and seven scores. Chauncey Billups (148 yards) has been inactive the last three games with Michael Campbell filling in nicely.
Campbell has turned in 199 yards (6.0 yards per carry) and six scores in that span.
Wolf, 419-427-8496
andywolf@thecourier.com