The Valparaiso University defense played what head coach Dave Cecchini called the best half he’s seen from the unit in his time with the Crusaders in the first half Saturday at #8/10 Illinois State, but a number of turnovers gave the Redbirds short fields which they converted on, and Valpo went on to fall by a 50-13 final in the 2016 season opener.
How It Happened
- The Crusader defense surrendered just 15 yards on 11 plays on the first three Illinois State drives which started on Illinois State’s side of the 50-yard line.
- The Redbirds cracked the scoreboard just 49 seconds into the game on an interception for a touchdown by Alejandro Rivera, but the Crusaders made it 7-3 at the end of one quarter on a 45-yard field goal late in the quarter by Jake Simpson (Wyandotte, Mich./Roosevelt).
- Illinois State would score 17 points on its first three possessions of the second quarter to pull ahead 24-3, as the Redbirds started one drive in the red zone following a fumble recovery and then returned two punts into Crusader territory.
- Valpo cut the Redbird advantage to 14 points with 1:54 remaining in the first half, as junior Kellan Hughes (Cicero, Ind./Hamilton Heights) picked off a pass on the 30-yard line and took it to the house for his first career touchdown.
- But Illinois State responded with a three-play, 64-yard drive to respond immediately, and then following an interception, added a field goal at the stroke of halftime to make it 34-10 at the break.
- The Redbirds scored nine points in the third quarter and added another touchdown in the fourth quarter before Simpson converted on a 43-yard field goal late in the fourth to close the scoring.
Inside the Game
- Hughes’ interception return for a touchdown was his fifth career pick. The 30-yard return comes after a 2015 campaign in which the Crusaders returned 11 total interceptions for just nine yards.
- Simpson became the first Valpo kicker to connect on a pair of 40+ yard field goals in the same game since David Hamaker hit from 40 and 43 yards versus Davidson in 2008.
- Valpo was out-gained by Illinois State, 446-130, for the game. The Redbirds ran for 271 yards, 183 of which came in the final 30 minutes.
- Junior Ryan Clarke (Hopatcong, N.J./Hopatcong) played quarterback for the Crusaders in the first half, while freshman Jimmy Seewald (Livonia, Mich./Divine Child) debuted under center and saw action throughout the second half.
- Besides Seewald, a number of players saw their first career action in a Crusader uniform, including a pair of Valpo H.S. graduates in Dylan Johnson [four tackles, one for loss] and Chris Orlich [two catches, 18 yards].
- Hughes finished with nine tackles for the Crusaders, while senior Idode Kerobo (Southfield, Mich./Eisenhower) paced Valpo with 10 tackles and added a pair of pass breakups.
- Sophomore Alex Ng (Royal Palm Beach, Fla./Wellington Community) enjoyed a strong game punting the ball, averaging 43 yards per punt. Ng placed three punts inside the 20-yard line and posted a long of 54 yards.
The Crusaders (0-1) will conclude their season-opening two-game road trip next Saturday as they travel to take on Sacred Heart in Fairfield, Conn. Kickoff next Saturday is slated for noon CT. The game can be heard live on WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso), with links for the live audio and live stats available via ValpoAthletics.com.