Valparaiso opened the 2010 season on Thursday evening, falling 45-0 to Western Illinois in a game played in a driving rain storm in Macomb, Ill.
“The weather caused a few snap issues, but for the most part those are concentration things,” head coach Dale Carlson said. “That wasn’t the difference in the game though. Our expectation is to play for 60 minutes, and we need all 11 guys to play each play on offense, defense, and special teams.”
Valpo picked up one first down on the opening drive of the game before being forced to punt and Western Illinois responded, scoring first on its opening drive. An 11-play, 66-yard drive, ended with Caulton Ray finding the end zone through left tackle from three yards out with 7:11 to play in the opening quarter.
The Leathernecks added a 36-yard field goal by Charlie Jouett on its second drive, taking a 10-0 lead into the second quarter.
Valpo then moved the ball into Western Illinois territory for the first time as the opening quarter wound down. Starting the drive at their own 18, the Crusaders picked up a couple of first downs as Nate Goergen (Golden, Colo./Golden H.S.) completed four passes, moving the Brown and Gold down to the Leathernecks 36-yard line. However, the Crusaders were forced to punt after failing to convert on a third-and-seven.
After Western Illinois drove down to the Crusader 37 on the ensuing drive, three straight incompletions, the last on fourth down, gave Valpo the football back. Eli Crawford (Bogart, Ga./North Oconee H.S.) nearly picked off two of the passes on the drive.
Valpo again drove into Western Illinois territory, moving inside the 20 while taking advantage of two Leatherneck penalties. A penalty on Valpo pushed the ball back, and on fourth-and-18 Goergen’s pass to the end zone was just out of the reach of an open Desmond Lewis (Fort Wayne, Ind./Homestead H.S.).
The Leathernecks again moved down field to the Valpo 16, but Jouett’s 33-yard field goal went wide left with 2:22 to play before halftime. Taking over following the miss, Valpo gave the ball right back to the Leathernecks at the Crusader 15 on a fumble. Two plays later, Josh Gabelmann hauled in an eight-yard pass on the right sideline from Matt Barr for a touchdown and Western Illinois took a 17-0 lead into the locker room.
“During every game there are going to be five to six plays you have to make and we just didn’t make them tonight,” Carlson said. “We have to learn how to overcome those things.”
A flee-flicker on Western Illinois’ second drive of the third quarter saw Barr connect with Lito Senatus from 63 yards out for a touchdown to put the Leathernecks on top 24-0 less than four minutes into the second half.
Valpo’s defense remained strong for the rest of the third quarter though, forcing three punts and stopping the Leathernecks on fourth down yet again. The Crusader offense could not move the ball either though, as Valpo tallied just seven yards total in the period.
“The defense in the third quarter played really well,” Carlson said. “I think they just eventually got worn down.”
Western Illinois scored three more touchdowns in the final quarter. Bryce Flowers had scoring runs of 31 and 16 yards while Gabelmann found the end zone from four yards out. Two of the scores came following Crusader turnovers.
“When you’re playing in this type of game (against a NCAA I-FCS scholarship program), you can’t turn the ball over,” Carlson added. “They got 21 points off of turnovers tonight.”
Western Illinois (1-0) finished the game with 569 yards of total offense, including 339 on the ground. Valpo managed just 131 yards for the night, 82 of which came through the air.
Goergen finished 13-of-24 for 81 yards while Sean McCarty (Waukesha, Wis./West H.S.) making four grabs for 32 yards. Isaac Wildermuth (Sidney, Ohio/Upper Arlington H.S.) led the way on the ground with 11 carries for 32 yards.
Barr completed 15-of-30 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns for the Leathernecks, including four passes to Senatus for 86 yards. Flowers carried 21 times for a game-high 128 yards.
Cody Gokan (Round Lake, Ill./Mundelein H.S.) led Valpo defensively with 17 tackles, including 10 solo stops.
Valparaiso (0-1) will return to action next Saturday, Sept. 11, as the Crusaders head to Franklin, Ind. to battle Franklin College. Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m. CDT.
Game Notes: This was the first meeting ever between Valpo and Western Illinois … the Leathernecks were the first Division I scholarship program the Crusaders have played since 2005 … punter Greg Wood (Libertyville, Ill./Libertyville H.S.) averaged 40.1 yards per punt in his collegiate debut, including a long of 55 … three of the punts landed inside the 20 … 10,104 tickets were sold for the game, although the actual attendance was considerably less.