By ANDY WOLF
The University of Findlay football team’s defense is at the proverbial fork in the road.
According to sophomore defensive back Christopher Jefferson, the Oilers gained some much-needed confidence against No. 2 ranked Ferris State.
Though, it came in a 24-23 loss.
“There’s two ways we can go with that,” Jefferson said. “We can keep going or we can get complacent. I feel like our defense is real confident. We’ve just got to keep building on the little things, running to the ball, effort and the sky’s the limit.”
Findlay (0-1) will aim to get in the win column when it takes on Northwood (0-1) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Donnell Stadium in nonleague play.
“We’re always ready to go,” Jefferson said of the home opener.
To Jefferson, a first-year starter, the question marks in an all-new starting secondary were evident in the preseason.
But they were ready to work and learn.
Senior transfer Eriq Fadahunsi and sophomore Sincere Henderson each started at corner. Jefferson and sophomore Jeremiah Jackson each started at safety.
Learn quickly, they did.
Ferris State didn’t wait to test them.
Findlay failed on the deep pass.
The Bulldogs connected on a 59-yard touchdown pass through a blown coverage on its first offensive play.
“Definitely a newness, some nerves,” Jefferson said. “Once that play was over, we got the nerves out and we were ready to rock ‘n’ roll.”
UF’s defense tightened up from there, allowing 346 yards the rest of the way to the high-powered Bulldogs. Jefferson also chipped in an interception, one of two UF takeaways.
“Oh man, that felt real good,” he said.
Jefferson, a backup as a true freshman, saw some time last season, recording a fumble recovery and an interception with four pass breakups.
At times he learned the hard way, admitting he wanted to overplay and made errors as a result.
“The coaches, they’ve believed in me from day one,” Jefferson said. “I knew I just had to come out here and I had to produce.”
UF coach Rob Keys noted the work Jefferson is constantly doing to improve his game.
“It’s amazing when you play a little football as a freshman and you get those freshmen mistakes out of your system,” Keys said. “He continuously has become better as a player. He’s a great program player, he’s a great teammate.
“… He’s the kind of guy you’re looking to recruit. When you start talking about what you want as a Findlay football player, Chris Jefferson jumps right to the front.”
Here are more things to know for Saturday’s game:
SERIES HISTORY: Northwood holds the all-time series lead at 12-10 but Findlay has won the past two games.
The teams last met in 2016 in Findlay’s final year as a member of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
LAST WEEK: Findlay’s loss hinged on a failed 2-point pass with 51 seconds left.
Northwood, 3-7 last season, opened its season with a nail-biting 22-19 home loss to Tiffin.
Fourth-year starting quarterback Joe Garbarino got knocked out of the game via a Tiffin targeting call on the first drive of the third quarter. He didn’t return.
Backup and junior Grant Dunatchik entered and orchestrated two touchdown drives to take a 17-16 lead.
On the latter, he threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to Bryant Kieft on the first play of the drive and second of the fourth quarter.
After Tiffin regained the lead, Dunatchik threw an interception on Northwood’s final drive at the Tiffin 24-yard line to seal the win for the Dragons.
Dunatchik completed 4 of 11 attempts for 69 yards. He also ran 12 times for 45 yards.
Defensively, the Timberwolves allowed 488 yards, 338 through the air.
“They’re extremely well-coached,” Keys said of Northwood. “They’ve got some experience in certain spots, a lot like us, and inexperience in other spots.
“I love the way they attack the game.”
RUN HEAVY: Nineteen Division II teams carried the ball 50 or more times in their season opener. Northwood was close behind with 49 attempts and had moderate success of 186 yards.
The Timberwolves were the most run-oriented GLIAC team last season, with 459 rushes to 145 passing attempts, making nearly a 3-to-1 run-pass ratio.
Cashual Goldsmith led with 49 yards last week against Tiffin, and Abdul Levy ran for 33 yards. Four other players received multiple carries.
“(Co-Defensive coordinator) (Jason) Makrinos was telling us just do our job, don’t look for the ball, because once you look for the ball, you try to do too much and are out of position and you can’t make the play,” Jefferson said. “The plays will come to you.”
Findlay sophomore Brian Benson ran for 180 yards last week — the sixth-best individual total in D-II.
Benson didn’t score, but quarterback Matt Winzeler threw two touchdowns and ran for another in his UF debut. Winzeler totaled 240 yards and didn’t turn the ball over.