The Valparaiso football team left their heart and soul, along with sweat, blood and tears on Saturday afternoon at Torero Stadium in San Diego, Calif, as they fell to the hosts on a last-second Hail Mary touchdown throw, 32-27.
Valpo, who had just scored with 28 seconds left off a Ben Lehman (Elgin, Ill./St. Edward Central Catholic) three yard touchdown pass to San Diego native Spenser Pennington (San Diego, Calif./Del Notre), had battled back and forth with the Toreros all afternoon.
San Diego started their final drive on their own 34 yard line. On second down, Williams hit Reggie Bell on a 22 yard strike to move the Toreros into Valpo territory. An incomplete pass with four seconds on the clock and a Valpo timeout set up the final play. Williams stood in the pocket and launched a pass that Brandon White caught at its highest point and just over the head of defensive back Devan Gadson (Orlando, Fla./Freedom) and landed in the end zone.
The Valpo sidelines stood in disbelief as San Diego rushed the field. The Toreros had clinched the Pioneer Football League championship earlier on Friday when Jacksonville removed themselves due to an investigation into its football program.
The Toreros struck first in the game, with a pair of field goals from David Last to give the hosts a six-nothing lead at the end of one. The Crusaders would come storming back with a 45 yard touchdown run by junior running back Brandon Hall (Muskegon, Mich./Orchard View) at the 10:50 mark in the second quarter.
A touchdown pass to Chris Campano would give San Diego the lead with 3:46 to go in the first half. After Valpo punted it back, the Toreros would drive deep into Crusader territory again until freshman linebacker Kye Hall (New Smyrna Beach, Fla./New Smyrna) stepped in front of a Williams pass and picked it off at the three, ending the half.
A fumble on the Crusaders opening drive would give San Diego prime field position to open the second half and led to another Williams touchdown throw.
Another quick strike would propel the visitors however, as Lehman found senior wideout Andrew Cassara (Mokena, Ill./Aurora Christian) on a skinny post for a 64-yard touchdown to bring Valpo with six at 20-14.
Finding themselves down 26-14 with just over 13 minutes to go in the game, Lehman faked the handoff on the counter and took off down the sidelines for a 37-yard touchdown to make it 21-26.
A turnover on downs gave the Crusaders the ball with 9:34 to go and driving into San Diego territory. A miscommunication on a reverse from Hall to Fred Gladney (Milwaukee, Wis./Dominican) knocked the Crusaders out of scoring position, but a Lehman pooch punt pinned the Toreros at their own one yard line.
A quick three and out gave Valpo the ball back with 3:13 to go. Eight plays and 45 yards later, the Crusaders found the end zone with Lehman’s throw to Pennington, but the Toreros would come back with their Hail Mary at the end of the game.
Lehman would finish the day 20-of-30 for 221 yards and two touchdowns. Hall led the way on the ground with 70 yards and a score. Senior wide receiver Tanner Kuramata (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Claremont) would return to action today with eight catches for 77 yards, while Cassara had 79 yards on three catches.
Linebacker Alex Green (Zionsville, Ind./Zionsville Community) led the defense with 12 tackles, while J.J. Nunes (Baltimore, Md./Baltimore Lutheran) and Idode Kerobo (Macomb, Mich./Eisenhower) each had a pass breakup.
Valpo (3-8, 1-6) returns to the gridiron next Saturday for their final game of the season at Brown Field against Davidson. Kickoff is set for 1:00 pm CT. Links to live stats, audio and video can be found at ValpoAthletics.com