Gabe Ali-El (Randallstown, Md./Polytechnic Institute) caught a nine-yard touchdown pass from Eric Hoffman (Manitowoc, Wis./Lincoln H.S.) with 3:09 remaining gave Valparaiso the lead and the Crusaders held on to defeat Campbell 34-31 on Saturday afternoon at Brown Field, sending the Valpo seniors off in style in their home finale.
Trailing 31-27 after a Campbell touchdown with 6:19 to play, Devan Gadson’s (Orlando, Fla./Freedom H.S.) 41-yard kickoff return set Valpo up in Camel territory for its go-ahead drive. The Crusaders moved down field and on a third-and-six from the nine, Hoffman rolled right and threw back left to Ali-El who reached the end zone for the go ahead score. For Hoffman it was his fourth touchdown pass of the day.
Valpo’s defense then stayed strong, and was aided by three Campbell penalties, two of which were 15-yarders, to snap a 29-game losing streak. The Crusaders won for the first time since Sept. 12, 2009 at Concordia (Wis.).
“I’m so happy for our 18 seniors to finally break the streak on Senior Day,” head coach Dale Carlson said. “We’ve been so close to making plays all year and today we finally made those plays against a good team.”
Campbell scored first late in the opening quarter as Jordan Cramer found the end zone from a yard out as the Camels took advantage of a Crusader turnover.
Ali-El tied the game at the 8:20 mark of the second with a 22-yard touchdown scamper, spinning out of a tackle on the left side and racing to the end zone. After Adam Willets connected on a 22-yard field goal for the visitors, Valpo took the lead just before halftime. Hoffman found Sean McCarty (Waukesha, Wis./West H.S.) over the middle from 14 yards away and the Crusaders took a 13-10 lead into the locker room. The lead marked Valpo’s first advantage at halftime all season.
“That second quarter was key,” Carlson said. “Getting that score to go into halftime with the lead was critical. That drive allowed us to get in a position we needed to be in for the fourth quarter.”
Tanner Kuramata (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Claremont H.S.) caught a pass in the right corner of the end zone on a lob play from three yards out on the opening drive of the second half to extend Valpo’s advantage to 19-10.
Campbell battled back. Carl Smith scored on a three-yard run to pull the Camels within two, and after a three-and-out by Valpo, broke free and ran 56 yards to put the visitors on top 24-19 heading into the fourth quarter.
Hoffman again drove Valpo down field. On fouth-and-16 at the Camels 30, Hoffman connected with Mike Gerton (Mundelein, Ill./Mundelein H.S.) at the 10-yard line for a first down. After a loss on the next play, Hoffman scrambled and found Tim Bennett (Joliet, Ill./Joliet Catholic H.S.) in the end zone for the go ahead score.
C.J. Oates put Campbell back on top 31-27 with a one-yard run at the 6:19 mark, setting up Valpo’s final drive.
Hoffman finished the game 30-of-40 passing for 317 yards and the two touchdowns to lead the Crusaders. Ali-El had seven catches for 90 yards while rushing for another 69. Gerton also had seven grabs for 71 yards while Bennett hauled in six passes. Valpo finished the game with 399 total yards.
“Hoffman played very well today and made some good reads,” Carlson added. “We did what we needed to do to get the win.”
Braden Smith was 13-of-18 passing for 133 yards for Campbell (6-4, 5-3 PFL) while Smith rushed for 136 yards. Oates also went over 100 yards on the day, finishing with 103 on 17 carries as the Camels finished the game with 427 total yards as a team.
“We knew they could run the football,” Carlson concluded. “That’s why I knew we needed to put them in a position on their final drive where they needed to throw the football. We got some great pressure on that drive to force the penalties.”
Valparaiso (1-9, 1-6) will close out the 2011 season next Saturday afternoon in Davidson, N.C. against the Wildcats of Davidson. Kickoff is set for 12 p.m. CST.
Game Notes: The all-time series is now tied 2-2 between the two schools … Valpo honored its 18 seniors prior to kickoff … Cole Gridley (Redlands, Calif./Redlands H.S.) led the defense with 12 tackles while Nikko Carson (Lockport, Ill./Lockport H.S.) had two tackles for loss, including a key sack … Ryan Mundy (West Lafayette, Ind./Harrison H.S.) recovered a fumble in the opening quarter, his first collegiate takeaway … Valpo was 2-for-2 on fourth downs and 5-for-5 in the red zone.