(STATS) - Original Pioneer Football League member Dayton added to its league-leading total of championships in 2015, returning to the top spot for the first time in five years.
That title put the Flyers in the FCS playoffs for the first time, and they saw their name mentioned alongside some of the top programs in the subdivision along the way.
Dayton clinched a tie for its record 12th title in the 23-year history of the PFL with a 28-21 win over visiting Marist on Nov. 14. The victory moved the Flyers to 10-0 and gave them a 12-game win streak, which was the longest in the FCS after then-No. 12 Harvard lost to Penn that week.
It also kept Dayton as one of two undefeated teams in the FCS along with then-No. 3 McNeese State. However, that all came to an end the following week.
Dayton had a chance to be the outright champion of the PFL heading into its regular-season finale Nov. 21 at Drake, which was the last team to defeat the Flyers in November 2014.
The Bulldogs jumped out to a 21-0 halftime lead and held on for a 27-17 win, denying Dayton of the third 11-0 regular season in program history after the 1980 squad won the Division III national championship and the 1996 team took the PFL title.
San Diego then beat Butler 28-27 to earn a share of the league title after winning it in 2014, but Dayton got the PFL's automatic playoff bid - the only one handed out to a non-scholarship conference - due to its 13-12 win over the Toreros on Oct. 10.
The Flyers hosted Western Illinois of the Missouri Valley Football Conference in a first-round playoff game Nov. 28 and lost 24-7, sending them into the offseason on their first two-game slide since November 2013.
Still, PFL coach of the year Rick Chamberlin had nothing but good things to say about his team's performance in 2015.
"One of the most successful season's Dayton's ever had and the first playoff for the FCS championship, so that's something that these young men will never forget," said Chamberlin, who completed his eighth season as coach and 41st with the football program.
" ... I think it will be something this school and this community and alumni will never forget. ... To play as well as we did all year and just the heart and the poise that we showed."
San Diego's co-championship gave it seven titles, breaking a tie with Drake for the second-most in PFL history. Since 2009, the Flyers and Toreros have either won or shared the title in every season except 2013, when Butler and Marist were co-champions.
Morehead State and Jacksonville each finished one game back in the standings, but JU was ineligible for the title due to violations against the league's need-based financial aid guidelines.
Butler, Drake and Marist all went 4-4 in PFL action, followed by 3-5 Campbell and three teams at 1-7 - Stetson, Davidson and Valparaiso.
Highlights from the 2015 PFL season:
GAME OF THE YEAR: Morehead State's Austin Gahafer put on quite the show Sept. 12 at Southern Conference member VMI. The junior quarterback completed 35 of 62 attempts for 447 yards and four TDs with one interception in a 43-40 defeat, also catching a 23-yard pass for a TD en route to being named the STATS FCS National Offensive Player of the Week. It was the most passing yards in the PFL since Gahafer threw for 458 at Valparaiso in his sixth career game in 2013. San Diego's Anthony Lawrence, the PFL freshman offensive player of the year, then passed for 453 yards in a 47-16 win at Stetson on Oct. 31.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Gahafer became Morehead State's second winner of the PFL offensive player of the year award. He threw for 3,244 yards and 24 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. Gahafer finished second in the FCS in completions per game (26.5), third in passing yards per game (294.9), fourth in passing yards, tied for ninth in passing TDs and was 11th in points responsible for per game (16.2).
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Stetson junior safety Donald Payne became the fourth player in PFL history to be named defensive player of the year in consecutive seasons. He tied for the FCS lead with 7.2 solo tackles per game, helping him finish 11th with 11.4 total tackles a contest. Payne also tied for 16th in passes defended (1.3) and tied for 18th in tackles for loss (1.5).
SURPRISE OF THE YEAR: With seven straight non-winning seasons in PFL play, Morehead State was selected to finish eighth in the preseason coaches poll. But behind Gahafer's stellar play, the Eagles went 6-2 to post their most league wins since joining the PFL in 2001.
DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR: After going 2-14 in PFL games from 2012-13, Campbell went 4-4 in 2014 and was picked to finish fourth in the league. That prediction, however, didn't come to fruition as the Fighting Camels flamed out with three losses in their last four games. Linebacker Jack Ryan, though, was named the league's freshman defensive player of the year.
BY THE NUMBERS:
27,308 and 197 - Passing yards and passing touchdowns by the league - the second-most in the FCS in both categories behind the Big Sky.
151.5 - Rushing yards per game by Dayton senior Connor Kacsor, which led the FCS before the 2014 PFL offensive player of the year suffered a career-ending knee injury in practice Oct. 8.
600 - Wins by Drake, which became the 18th active FCS program to reach that mark with its season-ending victory over Dayton.
23 - Davidson's losing streak in PFL games before it snapped the skid with a 20-17 win at Stetson in its season finale.
11 - Receiving touchdowns by Morehead State senior Justin Cornwall - tied for seventh-most in the FCS.
2 - Former Marist teammates who appeared in the same NFL game when kicker Jason Myers and the Jacksonville Jaguars hosted defensive end Terrence Fede and the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 20.
16 - PFL student-athletes recognized on the CoSIDA Academic All-District Teams - tying the Missouri Valley Football Conference for most in all of Division I.
NEXT SEASON: Dayton and San Diego seem poised to again battle for the PFL title as they each bring back solid players at skill positions, and with Gahafer returning for his final season, Morehead State could challenge them. Alex Jeske started the last 11 games for the Flyers and passed for 2,052 yards, fourth-most by an FCS freshman. Fellow freshman Tucker Yinger carried the load after Kacsor went down and rushed for 695 yards and three TDs in his last five games. For the Toreros, Lawrence's 2,392 passing yards and 23 touchdown throws were both the second-most by a freshman behind STATS FCS Freshman of the Year Case Cookus of Northern Arizona. San Diego also brings back wide receiver Brian Riley, who tied for second in the PFL in TD catches (eight), was third in yards per catch (17.8), fourth in receiving yards (782) and fifth in receiving yards per game (71.1). It was Riley's first year on offense after playing defensive back in his first two seasons. Jacksonville will be eligible for the PFL title with its one-year ban over, and the Dolphins will have a new coach. Ian Shields resigned from Division II Lenoir-Rhyne and was hired by Jacksonville, which didn't renew Kerwin Bell's contract after nine seasons and a 66-35 record.