Valparaiso turned in a valiant Homecoming effort on Saturday afternoon, going toe-to-toe with NCAA I-FCS mid-major #1 San Diego for 60 minute before falling 41-27 at Brown Field.
The Crusaders led after the opening quarter and trailed by just seven at halftime, answering every score of San Diego’s (5-0, 2-0 PFL).
Valpo opened the game marching down field in just five plays with John Popper (Dublin, Ohio/Coffman H.S.) sprinted up the middle for a 42-yard touchdown just 2:21 into the game.
JT Rogan answered for the Toreros with a one-yard touchdown on the ensuing possession, but Valpo answered against. A 14-play, 77-yard drive by Valpo was capped with a 25-yard field goal by Dan VanAartsen (Brookfield, Wis./East H.S.), putting the Brown and Gold up 10-7 with 3:04 remaining in the opening quarter.
Rogan again answered, scoring his second of four touchdowns on the day on a three-yard run, putting San Diego up 14-10 late in the first. The lead did not last long for the visitors though, as Popper returned the kickoff and got several good blocks while racing 96 yards for a touchdown, giving the Crusaders a 17-14 lead after one.
The Toreros answered again, as Josh Johnson connected on a 13-yard touchdown strike to Derron Juarez on the first drive of the second quarter. Valpo was forced to punt on its next drive, but Mitch Secrest (Elbrun, Ill./Kaneland H.S.) landed his kick at the four-yard line and the Crusaders were able to down the punt.
Valpo’s defense rose to the occasion, forcing a three-and-out, and Valpo took over on the San Diego 35. The drive stalled at the 10, but a Van Aartsen 27-yard field goal pulled the Crusaders within one.
San Diego scored one more touchdown before intermission, as Rogan’s 23-yard run with 1:11 left gave the Toreros a 27-20 lead at the break. Rogan found the end zone for a final time from 24 yards out just 1:04 out of the break, as San Diego need just three plays to take a 14-point lead.
Valpo had yet another answer with an 11-play, 76-yard drive capped off by a Ross Wiemer (Burlington ,Wis./Burlington H.S.) touchdown run from four yards out, bringing Valpo within 34-27. The Crusader defense then forced another San Diego punt, but the offense was unable to capitalize this time.
The Toreros then moved the clock, using a 17-play, 90-yard drive that ate up 7:45 off the clock before Johnson tossed a five-yard touchdown to Nick Coppedge. A Valpo interception on its next drive sealed the win for San Diego.
“I thought we played hard and did a good job for 60 minutes today,” Valpo head coach Stacy Adams said. “We showed everyone what we are capable of doing.”
Valpo finished the game with 281 yards rushing and 377 total yards offensively. Warren Arnold (Mundelein, Ill./Mundelein H.S.) led the ground game with 15 carries for 95 yards while also throwing for 96 more. Wiemer added 82 yards and a score while Popper had nine carries for 75 yards in addition to his 30.0 yard-per-return average on kickoffs.
Johnson finished 20-of-31 for 208 yards and two touchdowns for San Diego, with eight of his completions going to Wes Doyle for 105 yards. Rogan finished with 127 yards and the four scores as the Toreros finished the game with 452 yards of total offense.
Ryan Koepke (Fort Wayne, Ind./Homestead H.S.) led the way with 11 tackles, including a half of a sack while Matt Watkins (Mason, Ohio/Mason H.S.) and Sean Dillon (Oak Lawn, Ill./Mount Carmel H.S.) had 10 stops each. Tyler Evans led San Diego with 13 tackles.
“Hopefully we can learn from our performance this week and bring home the Hoosier Helmet next Saturday against Butler,” Adams concluded.
Valparaiso (3-3, 0-2) will continue its homestand next Saturday afternoon against the Bulldogs beginning at 1 p.m. at Brown Field. The “Battle for the Hoosier Helmet” will be carried live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network.