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2021 Mid-American Conference Football Week 1 Game Preview: Eastern Michigan Eagles vs. Saint Francis (PA) Red Flash

Under the Friday night lights, the Eagles and Red Flash will do battle to kick off the 2021 season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 12 NIU at Eastern Michigan Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Football returns to Ypsilanti after the COVID shortened 2020 season. The Eagles look to get back on track with an FCS opponent. The St. Francis Red Flashes travel to Ypsilanti from Loretto, Pennsylvania which is a few miles east of Pittsburgh. This is the first time the two teams have met. For that matter, this is the first time that the Red Flashes have faced an FBS team.

More importantly, this is the first time the Eagles Marching Band has taken the field for an audience since 2019.
Kenneth Bailey

The St. Francis Red Flashes are in the Northeast Conference, and have been for 25 years. They joined Division 1-AA (today called FCS) in 1993. They have one championship, which they claimed in 2016. Their head coach is Chris Villarrial and has been since 2010. He has compiled a 46-65 record at St. Francis. He played college football as a guard at Indiana University in Pennsylvania, and saw time in the NFL as a guard for the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills over the course of 11 seasons. In his conference championship year, he lost in the first round of the FCS playoffs. That year was also his best record, with the Red Flash at 7-5 (5-1 in-conference.)

The Red Flashes started playing football in 1892, but it started on an annual basis in 1969, joining the college ranks as an independent. In 1978, they joined NCAA Division III, also as an independent before joining Atlantic Collegiate Football Conference in 1989. In 1993, they made the jump to Division 1A and played three years as an independent before settling into their current conference in 1996.

They didn’t have a permanent name until 1927, when they were given the name Red Flashes because of their red uniforms. Prior to that they were unofficially known as the Saints, Franciscans or Frannies.

Their university was established in 1847 by six Franciscan brothers from Mountbellow, Ireland on land given by the first Bishop of Pittsburgh Michael O’Connor. The town of Loretto was the first English speaking Catholic settlement west of the Alleghenies and was established in 1799. One of their most notable alumni is Charles M. Schwab, the man that founded Bethlehem Steel which at one time was the second largest steel manufacturer in the United States. Somehow, he is no relation to the decidedly more famous investor.

Preston Hutchison finds himself under center again.
Kenneth Bailey

This is Eastern Michigan’s 130th year of playing football, and its 53rd season of playing at Rynearson Stadium. Eastern is 29-23 in its home openers at Rynearson, and 77-46-5 overall.

Eastern Michigan is coming off a 2-4 COVID shortened season. Their two wins were the last two games of the season, which makes folks wonder what could have been possible had they played a normal schedule. They lived and died by the margins, as is tradition, in 2020, scoring 33 points per game while giving up 36 points per game. Their offense was led by Preston Hutchinson, who was 126-of-198 with an average of 277 yards per game, throwing for 12 touchdowns and six interceptions, while also being a major contributor on the ground, adding 87 rushes for 206 yards and eight touchodowns, establishing himself as a true dual-threat. His leading target was Hassan Beydoun with 101 yards per game, with emergent receiver Tanner Knue following with 67 yards per game. The leading running back was Darius Boone with an average of 85 yards per game. All of these players are returning this season. Also returning is Coach Creighton, who is entered his eighth season at Eastern Michigan, and will be celebrating a four-year contract extension which he signed on Thursday morning.

The Eagle defense gave up 248 yards per game in the air, and had 6 picks, as well as 16 sacks and recovered 9 fumbles. Their interception leader was FaFleur Alvinoski with two interceptions. The tackle leader was Korey Hernadez with 29 tackles. Both players are returning for the defense.

The stats for St. Francis are from the 2019 season, as they did not play last year. In 2019, they were 6-6 (3-4 NEC.) They scored 25 points per game, while giving up 22 points per game. They averaged 260 yards in the air while their opponents averaged 272. They average 100 yards on the ground and gave up 115 yards. They had 34 sacks while only yielding 18. Their defense snatched six passes while their offense gave up six interceptions. The Red Flashes recovered 4 fumbles and gave up 10.

I am hoping to see a balanced attack from the Eagles. I would not expect the Red Flashes to give them much trouble... though, it must be said the last time the Eagles faced an opponent from the Northeast Conference, it was a heart-stopper against Central Connecticut, where Eastern Michigan won with a walk-off Mathew Sexton blocked punt and score to win 34-29. I hope this one isn’t that close.

I don’t think we will be able to make too many predictions for the rest of the season from this game but if the Eagles do really well, that might bode well for the rest of the season.

Kenneth Bailey

Will the Eagles fly high this year? We’ll see.