Valparaiso, Ind. - Jeff Horton rushed for a career-high 211 yards and two touchdowns and Ryan Doerffler passed for two scores as Valpo defeated Butler 31-26.
The victory gave Valpo (4-6, 1-3 PFL) its first Pioneer Football League win. Butler dropped to 1-9, 0-4 PFL.
Horton, a sophomore, turned the game around for the Crusaders with two long touchdown runs late in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter. After Butler scored the go-ahead touchdown with 2:26 left in the third quarter to give the Bulldogs a 20-17 lead, Horton scampered for a 63-yard touchdown 16 seconds later on the next play to put the Crusaders ahead 24-20.
On Butler's next possession, Brad Smeja intercepted Ian Nelson's pass at the Valpo 49-yard line and returned the ball 15 yards. Once again, Horton made noise on the next play, darting around right end for a 36-yard touchdown.
Butler, which picked up 23 first downs on the day, responded by completing a 13-play, 78-yard drive with Nelson's 4-yard touchdown pass to Phil Vorndran - his second scoring reception of the game - with 8:40 remaining.
After Valpo could not convert a 35-yard field goal attempt, Butler's final possession was thwarted by Stephen Lyons' 8-yard sack of Nelson, forcing the Bulldogs to punt with 4:30 left.
The Crusaders preceded to use nine rushing plays to run the remaining 4:26 off the clock. Fullback Matt Van Daele, who gained 33 yards on two carries during the drive, took a direct snap on fourth down and purposely ran back for a 29-yard loss as time expired.
After his two long runs, Horton inched closer to Ozzie Young's school record of 226 rushing yards (1994 vs. Evansville). On the day, Horton carried 21 times for a 10.0-yards-per-carry average.
Valpo grabbed a 17-7 halftime lead, thanks to two touchdown passes by Doerffler. The redshirt freshman found Joe Blahowicz for a 9-yard touchdown aerial with 5:37 left in the second quarter to lift Valpo to a 10-7 lead. Following defensive end Xavier Freeman's interception with 3:04 remaining, Doerffler connected with Kevin Knutson on a 39-yard touchdown on the next play.
Nelson's 2-yard scoring run trimmed Valpo's lead to 17-13 with 11:30 left in the third period and Nelson hit Vorndran for a 6-yard touchdown to give Butler its last lead (20-17) with 2:26 left before Horton's big plays changed the game.
Doerffler completed 7 of 18 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Knutson (52 yards) and Horton (23 yards) each made two catches for the Crusaders. Smeja, who led Valpo with 12 tackles and two pass breakups, returned four kickoffs for 104 yards.
Billy Nardini, who gave Butler a 7-0 lead with an 11-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter, led the Bulldogs with 139 rushing yards on 26 carries. Nelson completed 17 of 28 passes for 182 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions. Phil Christner led the Bulldogs with four receptions for 46 yards.
The contest was almost even in total yardage with Valpo holding a 387 to 378 advantage. The Crusaders outrushed the Bulldogs 246 to 196, while Butler outpassed Valpo 182 to 141. Valpo won the turnover battle 2-1.
Valpo will play its season finale next Saturday (Nov. 13) when it hosts Aurora at 12:30 p.m. on Senior Day.