Valparaiso (1-8, 1-6 Pioneer)
at Jacksonville (8-2, 5-2 Pioneer)
Game #10: Saturday, Nov. 21, 12 p.m. CT
D.B. Milne Field (5,000 - AstroTurf) - Jacksonville, Fla.
This Week in Crusader Football: The 2015 football season comes to a close Saturday afternoon in the Sunshine State. Despite ending up on the wrong end of a 36-29 contest against Morehead State last weekend at home, Valpo is coming off one of its best all-around efforts of the fall. Scott Staal fired 32 completions for 337 yards - both career highs for the redshirt junior quarterback. On the defensive side of the ball, the Crusaders forced three MSU turnovers while limiting all 19 of the Eagles’ drives to 143 seconds or fewer.
On the Air: For the 10th straight season, WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso) is home to all 11 Crusader football games in 2015. Dave Huseman will handle all the play-by-play Saturday with Brad Collignon providing color commentary. ESPN3 is scheduled to carry live video of the 2015 finale. Links to the audio, video, 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: Jacksonville leads the all-time series 5-2 over Valparaiso. The Dolphins have been winners in each of their last three contests versus the Brown and Gold. The Crusaders’ last win over JU came on Nov. 3rd, 2007 when they upended the Dolphins 29-27 at D.B. Milne Field in Jacksonville. This is the first meeting between the two teams since the 2010 season.
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 Jacksonville: The die was cast on the Dolphins’ 2015 season before the team even arrived to camp. On July 17th, the Pioneer Football League announced its review of Jacksonville’s football program and its use of financial aid. The league banned the Dolphins from postseason play for one year in addition to its acceptance of JU’s voluntary removal of its 2010 and 2014 championships and its vacation of conference wins from 2010-2014. It was determined that while Jacksonville committed no NCAA violations, PFL rules on financial aid were not followed.
Despite its embargo from the playoffs, Jacksonville has assembled a postseason-caliber team. The Dolphins rank sixth in FCS in passing offense at 308 yards per game, though the majority of those yards have come via the arm of Kade Bell, the son of head coach, Kerwin. Kade did not throw a pass in last Saturday’s 20-14 win over Campbell in Buies Creek. Redshirt sophomore Rylan Wells is listed atop the quarterback slot of JU’s two-deep heading into Saturday after making his first collegiate start in the Campbell game. Wells (40-for-64, 687 yds, 6 TD, 1 INT) has been a solid torchbearer for Kade Bell, who had racked up a shade under 2,400 passing yards and threw 21 touchdown passes in just nine contests. Senior Andy Jones is the ringleader of a Jacksonville receiving corps as deep as the St. John’s River. He eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark for his career on Nov. 7th versus Davidson. This season, Jones is second in the PFL in catches (6.2/game), receiving yards (811), and touchdowns (7). Fellow receiver Damien Strange (47 rec, 687 yds, 4 TDs) and running back Ulysses Bryant (37 rec, 387 yds, 3 TDs) require opposing secondaries to maintain a balanced focus. Bryant picks up an average of five yards per carry on the ground.
Lost in the glitz of its high-powered offense is Jacksonville’s top 25 defense. The Dolphins have limited opponents to between 12 and 16 points in six of their ten contests this season. No team in FCS football has accumulated more interceptions than JU (19). Dallas Jackson leads the way with five picks while cornerback Armani Sampson and safety Terrance Bryant have combined for eight. (Bryant has not seen the field since Oct. 24th.) Linebacker Grady Redding needs 10 tackles Saturday to reach 100 for the season while defensive end TJ Jenkins paces the Dolphins’ pass rush attack with 6.5 sacks. Jacksonville averages over three sacks per game, the seventh-most in the country.
JU kicker Brandon Behr is a perfect 34-for-34 on extra points this year, but has been successful on just 11 of 19 field goal attempts. Behr was named PFL Special Teams Player of the Week this past Monday after splitting the uprights on FG tries from 32 and 38 yards at Campbell.
Head Coach Kerwin Bell: Bell is in his ninth season leading the Jacksonville football program. Last Saturday was his 100th game as the head coach of the Dolphins and he enters this weekend’s finale with a 65-35 record. The 2008 PFL Coach of the Year is a legend in the Sunshine State. Bell quarterbacked the Florida Gators from 1984-1987, earning Southeastern Conference (SEC) Player of the Year honors as a freshman before receiving honorable mention All-American accolades in 1985 and 1986. He threw for 7,585 yards and 56 touchdowns during his career in Gainesville. The Miami Dolphins selected him in the 7th round of the 1988 NFL Draft. Bell went on to enjoy stints with the Falcons (1988), Buccaneers (1989), and Colts (1996-97). The University of Florida inducted Bell into its Hall of Fame in 1997.
Crusader Crumbs: Linebacker Alex Green has reached double digits in tackles in all but one game this season (Sep. 12, vs. Sacred Heart)...Saturday represents the Crusaders’ first game in the state of Florida since Nov. 7th, 2009...in 43 career games, defensive end John Guilford has tallied 214 tackles, 38.5 of which have been for a loss, including 18.5 sacks...21 Crusaders hail from the state of Florida, more than any other state besides Illinois.