Ryan Doerffler's (Fort Wayne, Ind./Concordia H.S.) 79-yard touchdown pass to Steve Ogden (Wauwatosa, Wis./West H.S.) with 31 seconds remaining gave Valparaiso a 42-35 victory over Morehead State in the Pioneer Football League opener for both schools in Morehead, Ky. on Saturday afternoon.
The duo connected on the game-winning score just 1:03 after the Eagles had tied the game at 35. The win is just the third all-time in 12 meetings against Morehead State and the first since the Crusaders defeated the Eagles 54-42 in the 2003 PFL Championship.
The Crusaders found the end zone first midway through the first quarter. A 12-play grind-it-out drive mostly on the ground saw freshman John Popper (Dublin, Ohio/Coffman H.S.) score his first collegiate touchdown from one yard out with 4:17 remaining in the quarter. The rookie carried for 44 yards on the drive as 11 of the 12 plays Valpo ran on the drive were on the ground.
Valpo extended its lead to 14-0 on the first play of the second quarter as Doerffler and Ogden hooked up for the first time on the day, this time a 48-yard touchdown pass that Ogden caught and avoided traffic for the final 15 yards.
Morehead State answered the drive with a 13-play, 78-yard march of its own, capped off by a one yard touchdown run by Jabari McGee to cut the Crusader advantage to 14-7 with 9:14 left in the half. After a Valpo fumble on the first play of the next possession, the Eagles offense again stuck the ball in the end zone, this time on a 12-yard pass from Brian Yost to McGee to tie the game at 14 with 7:35 remaining in the quarter.
The Brown and Gold responded before intermission with another long, 11-play drive. Ross Wiemer (Burlington, Wis./Burlington H.S.) scored his first career touchdown from a yard out. A key fourth down conversion at the Morehead State 43 kept the drive alive.
Right before intermission, Nick Feldman returned a punt 75 yards for an apparent Eagles' touchdown to tie the game, however it was nullified by a block-in-the-back penalty and the Crusaders took a 21-14 lead into the locker room.
Offensively, Valpo racked up 200 yards of total offense in the first half, including 65 on the ground by Popper, while the defense held the Eagles to just 115 total yards.
Following a 57-yard kickoff return to open the third quarter, Morehead State moved 36 yards in 12 plays, capped off by a four-yard run by Eric Banks to tie the game at 21 seven minutes into the half. Valpo tried to answer the score, driving to the Morehead State 30-yard line before missing a 47-yard field goal attempt. On the first play of the next possession for the Eagles, Eric Fitzpatrick raced 70 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown to give the hosts their first lead of the game.
Valpo answered immediately. A 22-yard run by Popper put the Crusaders in Morehead State territory and on a third-and-11 Doerffler connected with Nicholas Henton (Chicago, Ill./De La Salle H.S.) from 40 yards out for the redshirt-freshman's first career touchdown reception as the Crusaders tied the game at 28 with 2:39 to play in the third quarter.
On a third-and-long, Ryan Koepke (Fort Wayne, Ind./Homestead H.S.) stripped Yost of the football and Jimmy Riker (Tekonsha, Mich./Tekonsha H.S.) fell on the loose ball to give the Crusaders the ball at the Eagles' 45 on the final play of the third quarter.
Doerffler and Henton again hooked up on a big pass play, this one 43 yards, to give Valpo a first-and-goal from the one. On the next play, Wiemer took it across the goal line as the Brown and Gold retook the lead 35-28 with 13:05 to play.
Morehead State drove down inside the Crusader five, but on a fourth-and four from the five, the Crusaders stuffed the Eagles two yards short to take over on downs with 7:30 to play in the game. Valpo went three-and-out and had to punt with the Eagles taking over at Valpo's 39 with 5:36 to play. Ricky Cornelius scored from a yard out with 1:34 to play to tie the game at 35 and set the stage for Valpo's game-winning touchdown.
Ogden finished the game with four catches for 146 yards and two scores while Doerffler was 10-of-20 for 255 yards and three touchdowns. Popper tallied 90 yards on 17 carries while Wiemer had 69 yards on 12 attempts. Kyle Himmelwright (Coplay, Pa./Whithall H.S.) also had a big game with five kickoff returns for a 34.6 yard aveage.
Fitzpatrick led Morehead State (0-3, 0-1 PFL) with 108 yards on just eight carries while McGee added 64 more yards. Yost was 11-of-19 for just 92 yards.
Defensively, Charlie Thompson (Sheboygan, Wis./North H.S.) led the Crusaders with 12 tackles, including one for loss, while recording a pass break-up. Koepke made nine stops for the Brown and Gold while forcing a fumble.
Valparaiso (2-1, 1-0) will return home next Saturday afternoon as the Crusaders entertain Drake. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at Brown Field.