Valparaiso jumped out to a 14-point lead midway through the second quarter but Franklin rallied with three second half touchdowns and defeated the Crusaders 49-35 on a rainy Saturday evening at Brown Field in the season opener on the second annual Communiversity Day.
“Any time you lose it’s frustrating, whether it is by one point or a couple of touchdowns,” head coach Dale Carlson said after the game. “We gave up two many big plays on defense and didn’t finish off a couple of drives that could have led to points.”
The Crusaders totaled 463 yards of offense, including 394 through the air off of the arm of redshirt freshman Eric Hoffman (Manitowoc, Wis./Lincoln H.S.), who completed 27-of-42 passes including a touchdown in his collegiate debut.
“Eric made some really nice throws and had a pretty good debut for us,” Carlson stated.
Valpo’s defense put the first points on the scoreboard for the season as Alan Porter, Jr. (Downers Grove, Ill./South H.S.) picked off a Jonny West pass and raced 61 yards down the sidelines for a touchdown less than two minutes into the ball game.
After Franklin (1-0) answered with an 11-play scoring drive to tie the game as West ran in from a yard out, Valpo answered with a 10-play drive of its own on the Crusaders’ first offensive possession. The Brown and Gold converted a pair of fourth downs and Ryan Lehr (Cincinnati, Ohio/Glen Este H.S.) scored on a fourth-and one from three yards out to put Valpo on top 14-7.
“The face we started the game so strong and played well was a very positive factor for us,” Carlson added. “I liked the tempo we started the game with.”
The Grizzlies tied the game with just 1:14 remaining in the opening quarter as James Vaughn hauled in a 65-yard pass down the middle from West.
Again Valpo answered the Franklin score as Hoffman found freshman Gabe Ali-El (Randallstown, Md./Polytechnic Institute) out of the backfield from 11 yards out for the touchdown, the first scoring play in both of their Valpo careers. Two series later, Hoffman extended Valpo’s lead to 28-14 with a one-yard touchdown run.
“We’ve got some good young players and they showed that ability today,” Carlson said.
Franklin answered quickly as West connected with Kyle Linville from 59 yards out for a score. Just before halftime, West threw his third touchdown strike of the game, finding Keith Cunningham from 12 yards out. The game went to the break tied at 28.
Coming out of the locker room, Valpo needed just two plays to retake the lead. Bobby Wysocki (Calumet City, Ill./Thornwood H.S.) raced 27 yards for a touchdown after Hoffman connected with Tim Bennett (Joliet, Ill./Joliet Catholic H.S.) for a 38-yard completion.
“I told our offense at the half that we needed to respond and we did,” Carlson said. “Unfortunately, our offense left the building after that series and we can’t let that happen.”
The Grizzlies tied the game at 35 on a four-yard run by Ethan Cook with 1:37 to play in the third and took the lead as West found Ryan Hartman in the end zone for a 20-yard scoring pass with just seven ticks left on the third quarter clock.
West capped the scoring in the fourth with a 28-yard strike to Luke Hamm for his fifth touchdown pass of the game. West finished the game 32-of-51 for 448 yards.
Linville had eight catches for 151 yards to lead Franklin receivers while Cook carried 19 times for 115. The Grizzlies finished the game with 669 yards of total offense.
Wysocki led the Crusader ground game with eight carries for 29 yards and also had four receptions for 67 yards. Bennett had a team-high five grabs for 73 yards.
Defensively, Porter led the Brown and Gold with 12 tackles in addition to the interception while Pat Derbak (Schaumburg, Ill./Schaumburg H.S.) made nine stops.
“I expect our guys to play their hearts out again next week,” Carlson concluded.
Valparaiso (0-1) will take to the road for the first time this season next Saturday traveling to Youngstown, Ohio for a 3 p.m. CDT showdown with the Penguins of Youngstown State.
Game Notes: Franklin leads the all-time series 12-3 and has now won five straight meetings … the 35 points scored by the Crusaders were the most Valpo has tallied since at 47-14 victory at Campbell on Nov. 15, 2008 … Porter’s interception was the first of his career and his first touchdown … Bryce LaMore (Manteno, Ill./Bishop McNamara H.S.) also recorded his first collegiate pick … Valpo was 2-for-2 on fourth down conversions and 3-of-3 scoring in the red zone … Franklin was ranked 24th in the nation in Division III.