Behind running backs Mike Anderson and Braxton Shelton, Saint Joseph's spoiled Valpo's home opener Saturday night with a 31-10 win over the Brown and Gold. Though the Crusaders manufactured just ten points, senior wide receiver Tanner Kuramata (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Claremont) snagged a career-high 14 passes as part of a monster game.
The visiting Pumas won the coin toss before electing to receive the opening kickoff.
A false start penalty knocked the wind out of the sails of St. Joe's opening drive. The Pumas had navigated into Crusader territory following a trio of significant rushing gains, but the drive stalled at the Crusader 48-yard line.
In the midst of Valpo's ensuing drive, the Pumas were whistled for defensive pass interference on a 3rd and 12 that prolonged the home team's surge. The Brown and Gold converted a pair of key 4th down conversions to penetrate into the red zone before they faced a 4th and goal from the St. Joe's 3-yard line. Head coach Dave Cecchini opted to put the Crusaders on the scoreboard first, and Jacob Newman (Lawrenceburg, Ind./Lawrenceburg) obliged with a 20-yard field goal that capped a 19-play, 80-yard drive that gave Valpo a 3-0 lead with 4:16 to play in the first quarter. The Crusader possession ate over eight minutes of clock.
St. Joseph's erased the deficit at the end of the first quarter with a 4-play, 73-yard scoring drive. Mike Anderson broke loose for a 47-yard TD scamper, and a Gavin Voss extra-point gave the Pumas a 7-3 lead with 47 seconds left in the opening quarter.
The visitors wasted little time padding their lead. Following a Valpo three-and-out, the Pumas assembled a 50-yard strike that required six plays. Anderson broke the plane again, this time with a 16-yard catch from SJC quarterback Tate Borlik.
Following their tedious first quarter scoring drive, the Crusaders were unable to whip up a drive that eclipsed two minutes the rest of the first half.
The Pumas made it a two-touchdown game in the final seconds of the first half. Voss nailed a 46-yarder that put St. Joseph's on top 17-3 as the teams went into the break.
Despite committing four fewer penalties than Saint Joseph's through the first 30 minutes, Valpo was outrushed by a margin of 166-41.
St. Joseph's added a touchdown on its first drive of the second half before the Crusaders managed to get into the end zone.
Quarterback Ben Lehman (Elgin, Ill./Saint Edward Central Catholic) tossed an 11-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Cassara (Mokena, Ill./Aurora Christian) that concluded a 14-play, 80-yard possession. Newman's extra point made it 24-10.
Puma running back Braxton Shelton recorded four of his game-high 159 rushing yards on a fourth-quarter TD push. Shelton averaged 6.4 yards per carry on 25 touches. Mike Anderson logged 168 all-purpose yards on the evening: 97 yards on ten carries and five catches for 71 yards. The sophomore was in on three of his team's four touchdowns, and Saint Joseph's held on for a 31-10 victory.
"In my mind, this game really started and ended at the line of scrimmage. We were not able to effectively control the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball," Cecchini said after the game.
Kuramata finished the night with 148 receiving yards on a career-high 14 catches. He was two receptions shy of the single-game school record of 16 set by Mike Healey in 1985. Sophomore Grayson Bastin (Fort Wayne, Ind./Homestead) led the Crusaders in rushing with 63 yards on 14 attempts. Lehman ended the night 24-of-47 for 234 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions.
Valparaiso controlled the ball for 30:29 and ran 87 plays. Despite a 6-for-20 third down conversion rate, the Crusaders were successful three times on four fourth down attempts.
The Crusaders (0-2, 0-0 PFL) enters their bye week before they travel to Liberty, Mo. to take on the William Jewell Cardinals (1-0, 0-0 GLVC) on Saturday, Sept. 20th at 1:00 pm. Links to audio and live stats will be available at ValpoAthletics.com.