Turnovers on three of the first four possessions of the second half on a muddy field turned field position favorably toward Saint Francis (Ill.) on Thursday evening and the Fighting Saints took advantage, recording a 21-0 victory over Valparaiso in Joliet, Ill. in the season opener for both schools.
In a game played in a driving rain storm, field possession was at a premium. The opening 15 minutes saw both team struggle to move the ball, with the majority of the action being played between the 30-yard lines. Matt Watkins (Mason, Ohio/Mason H.S.) intercepted a pass early in the first quarter, the first of two turnovers the Crusaders forced in the first half.
Saint Francis found the scoreboard at the 12:26 mark of the second quarter after utilizing a seven play, 70-yard drive, all on the ground. Javon Stewart, who carried six times on the drive, scored on misdirection to the right from 20 yards out to put the Fighting Saints on top 7-0.
“Their early score made it an uphill battle for us to climb,” head coach Stacy Adams said afterwards. “By the end of the first quarter the field was a quagmire. We’re a no excuse team though, but we would have loved to have played them on a dry surface.”
Anthony Curry (Merrillville, Ind./Merrillville H.S.) picked off another Saint Francis pass midway through the second quarter, returning it 22 yards into Fighting Saints territory. Valpo could not move the ball past the host’s 35-yard line in the first half, punting on all five possessions.
The Crusaders appeared poised to threaten opening the second half, as John Popper (Dublin, Ohio/Coffman H.S.) returned the kickoff 33 yards to the Valpo 47, but two plays later a fumble, the first Valpo turnover of the game, gave Saint Francis the ball at midfield. The Crusader defense responded, forcing a three-and-out.
After a short Valpo punt, the Fighting Saints took over at the Crusader 25-yard line. Five running plays later, Donte Villery scored up the middle from three yards out. A bad snap on the conversion left Saint Francis on top 13-0 at the 8:26 mark.
A fumble on the ensuing kickoff again set Saint Francis up in Valpo territory. A converted fourth-and-seven kept the drive alive and Jason Fiske went around left end at the 4:10 mark for a 10-yard score. Fiske then ran right for the two-point conversion, and the home team led by 21 points when the third quarter came to an end.
Another fumble on a punt allowed Saint Francis to start yet another drive at the Valpo 29, but the defense held on fourth down on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Valpo’s offense finally moved inside of the Saint Francis 30 with under four minutes to go in the game, picking up the Crusaders lone first down of the second half. Valpo managed just 24 yards of total offense in the second half.
Saint Francis (1-0) threw just three passes in the game, and ran on all 33 plays in the second half, totally 216 yards on the ground. Valpo finished the game with just 116 total yards.
Villery led the Fighting Saints ground game with 95 yards on 25 carries while Ross Wiemer (Burlington, Wis./Burlington H.S.) had a team-high 49 yards on 12 carries for the Crusaders.
“We played a good football team that returned a lot of veterans,” added Adams. “Turnovers hurt us tonight, but with a team like ours we will bounce back. We battled for 60 minutes tonight.”
Valparaiso (0-1) will host Concordia (Wis.) on Saturday, September 13 at Brown Field in the home opener. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. with all the action carried live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network.
Game Notes: Four Crusaders made their first collegiate starts: Steve Lara (Florissant, Mo./Hazelwood Central H.S.), Ryan Myers (Chesterton, Ind./Chesterton H.S.), Nikko Carson (Homer Glen, Ill./Lockport Township H.S.), and Jake Jenrich (Chicago, Ill./Saint Rita H.S.) … for Lara, Myers, and Carson, it also marked their Crusader debut … this was one of only two games Valpo will play on grass in 2008 (also at San Diego) … the game took just 2:20 to play … Warren Arnold (Mundelein, Ill./Mundelein H.S.) moved into 10th place on Valpo’s career list for all purpose yardage with 3,085.