Sacred Heart (1-0, 0-0 Northeast)
at Valparaiso (0-1, 0-0 Pioneer)
Game #2: Saturday, Sept. 12, 1 p.m. CT
Brown Field (5,000 - ProGrass) - Valparaiso, Ind.
This Week in Crusader Football: Football returns to Brown Field on Saturday afternoon as the Crusaders begin the first of three straight home tilts. Sacred Heart, the reigning Northeast Conference champions, ride into town 1-0 after defeating D-II St. Anselm, 43-19, last Saturday in Fairfield. The Pioneers boasted the nation’s third-best run defense a season ago, and last week, picked up right where they left off, limiting the Hawks to 45 yards on the ground despite 31 attempts.
On the Air: Todd Ickow is in the booth calling the action on the Valpo Sports Radio Network. For the 10th straight season, WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso) is home to all 11 Crusader football games in 2015. Fans can also tune in through valpoathletics.com. Ickow will handle all the play-by-play with Dave Huseman serving as color commentator. Links to the audio and live stats are posted at www.valpoathletics.com.
Head Coach Dave Cecchini: Cecchini was 4-8 in 2014, his first year at Valparaiso. His first head coaching win came on Sept. 20th, 2014 when the Crusaders defeated William Jewell 39-30. Cecchini led the Brown and Gold to their first four-win season since 2007 and their first two-PFL win campaign since 2008. Cecchini’s fresh voice and unparalleled attention to detail on both sides of the ball helped last year’s squad to a 156-point improvement on defense over its predecessors in 2013. Cecchini made a name for himself as offensive coordinator at Harvard in 2003 when the Crimson compiled the fourth-best offense in the nation en route to an undefeated 10-0 season and an Ivy League Championship. Furthermore, The Citadel set 16 offensive records under his tutelage.
All-Time Series: Saturday will be the first ever matchup between Valpo and Sacred Heart. Furthermore, it’ll represent the Pioneers’ first game outside the Eastern Time Zone in their 24-year history.
Wrapping Up 2014: The Crusaders snapped a nine-game losing streak dating back to 2013 when they handed William Jewell a 39-30 defeat on Sep. 20th in Liberty, Mo. The victory was Valpo’s first away from Brown Field since Nov. 3rd, 2012 when they downed Campbell, 41-21. Valpo went on to finish Dave Cecchini’s inaugural season with a 4-8 record.
Scouting Sacred Heart: Sacred Heart head coach Mark Nofri has had the King Midas touch since being named the permanent head coach two seasons ago. The Pioneers enter 2015 as back-to-back NEC champs. Sacred Heart has suffered just one loss in the month of September during its recent title runs. SHU’s top two playmakers on offense are in their final season.
Senior quarterback RJ Noel is the engine of the Pioneer offense. The two-time All-NEC First Teamer will most likely hit two career milestones Saturday. He needs just one completion to eclipse 400 for his career and 79 passing yards to reach 5,000. Noel’s legs force opposing defenses to remain honest as well. In addition to throwing for a pair of TDs, Noel also scampered for two in last Saturday’s opener. He rushed for over 100 yards twice in 2014 while completing exactly 16 passes in five different tilts.
Fellow All-NEC First Team recipient Tyler Dube is Noel’s most utilized target. Dube hauled in 79 passes for 960 yards and an eye-popping 16 TDs. He recorded a touchdown reception in all but one game last season (at Wagner), and his aforementioned season total of 16 were the second-most in the country. Dube lit up the St. Anselm secondary for 155 yards on eight catches, including a score, last week. Three different Pioneers logged 130 rushes or more in 2014, but it appears as though Noel and junior Ose Imeokparia will shoulder the majority of the running load this fall.
Sacred Heart boasted a top 10 defense last season, finishing 8th in total defense (294.5 yards/game), 1st in red zone defense (47.1%), 3rd in defending the rush (86.3 yards/game), 2nd in 3rd-down conversion percentage (26.3%), and tops in 4th-down conversion percentage (23.1%). The Pioneers’ defensive unit got off to a bang in 2015 with a pair of safeties in the season opener. Sophomore DE Dylan Ackerson had a monster performance in SHU’s win over St. Anselm, racking up 3.5 tackles for a loss, including two sacks. Senior James Rentz (19.0 TFL, 12.5 sacks, two forced fumbles in 2014) was named an FCS Preseason Third Team All-American, but did not appear in Week 1.
Second Round of Captains: Valpo returns all four captains from the 2014 season. Redshirt senior running back Jake Hutson and redshirt senior center Nate Koeneman will represent the offense, while senior defensive end John Guilford and senior linebacker Alex Green will represent the Crusader defense.
Head Coach Mark Nofri: Nofri is in his fourth season calling the shots for the Sacred Heart football program. Despite his relatively short tenure in Fairfield, the 1993 Keene State grad owns two NEC Coach of the Year Awards (2013, ‘14). His work during the 2013 campaign - his first without the title of interim head coach - led to an eight-game turnaround from the prior season. Nofri has coached five players to All-American status in the last two years. He began his coaching career at Hamilton College before joining the Pioneers in 1994. Nofri enters Saturday’s tilt with a 22-15 (.595) record.
Crusader Crumbs: The Crusaders surrendered just 16.5 points per game at home last season...freshman Joey Diaz-Martinez was one of only nine players in the country to record two or more interceptions in Week 1; he picked off both passes on back-to-back drives over a 2:22 span...25 Crusaders made their collegiate debuts last Thursday at Eastern Kentucky, including six starts...Scott Staal’s touchdown pass to Jake Hutson in the final minute of last week’s contest was the first by a Valpo quarterback versus an FCS scholarship program (sixth game versus such an opponent)...Valpo comes in to Saturday’s game with a 214-215-7 (.499) all-time record at home...through Dave Cecchini’s first 13 games as head coach, the Crusaders have been penalized more than their opponents just three times...a win on Saturday would be the Brown and Gold’s first victory over a D-I opponent in a home opener since 2000 (Austin Peay).