Duquesne (0-1, 0-0 NEC)
at Valparaiso (0-1, 0-0 PFL)
Game #2: Saturday, Sept. 9, 1 p.m. CT
Brown Field (5,000 – ProGrass) – Valparaiso, Ind.
This Week in Crusader Football: The Valparaiso University football team will crank up the home portion of the 2017 season on Saturday afternoon as Duquesne comes to town. The Crusaders will take the field at home in a game situation for the first time since the 2016 season finale against Jacksonville, a thrilling 42-39 win. This marks the first of five Brown Field dates this year.
Last Time Out: The Crusaders generated 450 yards of offense and put a scare into Big Sky full-scholarship foe Montana before the Grizzlies pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 45-23 victory. The Crusaders accumulated 450 yards of offense, led late in the second quarter and trailed by just four at halftime. Jimmy Seewald and Chris Duncan combined to complete 20 passes for 327 yards, Duncan led the rushing attack with 50 yards on 13 carries and Griffin Norberg was the team’s top receiver with four catches for 104 yards and one touchdown.
Following the Crusaders: For the 12th straight season, WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso) is home to all 11 Crusader football games in 2017. Todd Ickow is back for his 27th season as Valpo’s play-by-play broadcaster, while Dave Huseman will add color commentary for home games for the fifth consecutive year. Links to live audio and stats will be available on ValpoAthletics.com.
Head Coach Dave Cecchini: Cecchini is in his fourth season as the head coach of the Crusaders. He enters this game with a 9-25 record, both overall and in three years at Valpo. In his first season as head coach of the Crusaders, Cecchini led the program to a four-win season, its highest win total since 2007. His team matched the four win total in 2016, Cecchini’s third year. Prior to arriving at Valpo, Cecchini served as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Lehigh for four years.
Series Notes: This marks the third meeting between the two teams, with Valpo dropping each of the first two. The Dukes bested the Crusaders in 2011 in Pittsburgh and 2012 at Brown Field.
Home Opener History: Last year, Valpo won its first Brown Field game of the season against Trinity International, giving the Crusaders the chance to make it back-to-back home opener wins with a victory over the Dukes. Last year’s win was the first time the Crusaders won a home opener since 2008 against Concordia.
Duncan Debut: Redshirt freshman Chris Duncan, who made his collegiate debut on Saturday at Montana, became the first quarterback to finish a game as Valpo’s leading rusher since Eric Hoffman on Sept. 14, 2013 against Williams Jewell. He also became the first Crusader quarterback to rush for 50 yards in a game since Bobby Wysocki ran for 101 yards on Oct. 10, 2009 against San Diego. Duncan’s 150 passing yards were the most by a Crusader in his first collegiate game since Eric Hoffman threw for 394 on Sept. 3, 2011 against Franklin College. Duncan also became the first Valpo quarterback to throw a touchdown pass in his debut since Hoffman, and the first Crusader to toss two TDs in his initial appearance in over a decade. Duncan is tied for second in the PFL in total offense.
Kicking Off The Campaign: Sophomore kicker Dimitrios Latsonas went 3-for-3 on field goal attempts in Valpo’s season opener at Montana. The sophomore had only attempted two field goals in his career before Saturday. His final attempt of the day was a career-long 44 yards. Latsonas became the first Valpo kicker to make three field goals in a game since David Hamaker on Oct. 11, 2008. Furthermore, Latsonas is one of two kickers in the FCS nation to go 3-for-3 on field goal attempts in Week 1, joining North Dakota’s Reid Taubenheim. Latsonas is one of four FCS kickers nationally who made three field goals last week.
Keeping It Close: Valpo, a member of the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League, did something with little precedent in the program’s recent past when they gave a scholarship program a scare. Comparing the result of Saturday’s game to previous contests against scholarship schools helps illustrate the program’s progress.
Date Opponent Score Margin Halftime Led? Total Offense
Sept. 7, 2017 at Montana 45-23 22 17-13 Y 450
Sept. 3, 2016 at Illinois St 50-13 37 34-10 N 130
Sept.10, 2016 at Sacred H 42-13 28 35-14 N 221
Sept. 3, 2016 at EKU 52-10 42 31-3 N 220
Sept. 12, 2016 Sacred Heart 56-3 53 35-0 N 235
Aug. 28, 2014 at WIU 45-6 39 24-0 N 227
Aug. 29, 2013 at UND 69-10 59 35-0 N 174
Sept. 8, 2012 at YSU 59-0 59 49-0 N 190
Sept. 15, 2012 Duquesne 45-17 28 45-17 Y 291
Sept. 10, 2011 at YSU 77-13 64 63-6 N 291
Sept. 17, 2011 at Duquesne 49-14 35 28-0 N 188
Sept. 2, 2010 at WIU 45-0 45 17-0 N 131
Sept. 10, 2005 at SDSU 69-6 63 45-6 N 129
Aug. 28, 2004 at NDSU 52-0 52 38-0 N 180
He’s Back: In his return to the field after a season-ending injury in Week 1 of the 2016 season, defensive back J.J. Nunes notched an interception and returned it 24 yards, while also sharing the team lead in tackles with 10. In addition, Nunes had a forced fumble and fumble recovery, but the Montana player was ruled down after video review.
Passing Zone: Valpo is 10th in the FCS nation with 327 yards passing through one week. Jimmy Seewald’s 14.75 yards per completion ranks 15th nationally. Valpo’s 450 yards of total offense ranks 26th nationally and second in the PFL behind Morehead State.
Norberg, Navarro Net 90+: Donny Navarro made a memorable debut, hauling in a 50-yard grab on the first play of his collegiate career and later snatching a 33 yarder for a touchdown. Griffin Norberg made four catches for 104 yards, while Navarro accumulated 93 yards on three grabs. Each player caught a TD pass. Before Norberg and Navarro’s performances on Saturday, Valpo hadn’t had a receiver with more than 76 receiving yards in a season opener since 2006. Noberg is tied for 26th nationally (tied for second in the PFL) in receiving yards, while Navarro is tied for 12th in yards per reception.
Valpo Leading Receivers in Season Openers, 2006-16
2016 at Illinois State – Sutter 28 yd
2015 at Eastern Kentucky – Catrine 70 yd
2014 at Western Kentucky – Kuramata 76 yd
2013 at UND – Gladney 43 yd
2012 vs. SJC – Slenk 43 yd
2011 vs. Franklin – Bennett 73 yd
2010 vs. WIU – McCarty 32 yd
2009 vs. SJC – Henton 52 yd
2008 at Saint Francis – Henton 13 yd
2007 vs. Saint Francis – Hughes 66 yd
2006 Steve Ogden 202 yards at Wisconsin Lutheran
Scouting Duquesne: The Dukes own a winning history, having captured Northeast Conference championships in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2016. They tied for first in the conference standings a year ago after finishing with an 8-3 record, 5-1 in NEC play. Head coach Jerry Schmitt enters his 13th season and holds a .585 winning percentage in his first dozen years in charge of the program. On offense, Duquesne returns five starters, including a pair of 2016 first-team all-NEC honorees – senior right guard Ben Hines and sophomore running back A.J. Hines, who earned the 2016 Jerry Rice Award given the top FCS freshman. A.J. Hines ran for 117.4 yards per game last year, which ranks fifth in the nation among FCS returnees. On defense, eight starters are back, including first-team all-conference inside linebacker Nathan Stone. Duquesne was picked to finish atop the NEC standings in a preseason polling of the conference’s head coaches. If they live up to those expectations, they’ll become just the second team in conference history to win or share the conference title three straight years. The Dukes have been picked to finish first or second in the NEC preseason poll each of the last seven seasons. Duquesne started the season against a high-level South Dakota State team and fell 51-13.
Duquesne Against the PFL: The Dukes hosted Dayton last season and eked out a 34-20 victory. They went to Dayton the year prior and the Flyers prevailed 24-13. Those two teams will meet against this year, on Sept. 16 in Dayton. This will be the 10th straight season the Dukes and Flyers have faced off.
On the Uptick: The 2016 season marked a significant improvement for the Crusaders, who finished with their highest Pioneer Football League win total since 2003 and equaled their highest overall win total since 2007. The 2016 season concluded in style, as Valpo knocked off Jacksonville 42-39, a team the Crusaders lost to by 45 points the year prior.
Experienced Crew: The Crusaders brought back a team laden with experience this season. The Crusaders back 1,008 of their 1,112 rushing yards from a year ago with all of their top nine rushers back on the team. All three players who saw time at quarterback in 2016 are back on the roster, though two have switched positions. All five players who had 200 or more receiving yards a year ago are back, and overall the Crusaders return 14 of the 17 players who caught at least one pass. Valpo’s top nine players in terms of all-purpose yards are back. The team brough back 33 of its 34 touchdowns scored last season. Defensively, 10 of the team’s 13 interceptions were made by players who return this season and 13 of the team’s top 18 tacklers are back. On special teams, the Crusaders brought back every punt, field-goal attempt, extra-point attempt and kickoff and retain 48 of their 49 kickoff returns.
Preseason Accolades: The Crusaders placed three on the 2017 Preseason All-Pioneer Football League Team – senior running back Jarrett Morgan, junior linebacker Drew Snouffer and sophomore return specialist Bailey Gessinger. This marked the most players Valpo has had on the team since 2011, when four Crusaders received the honor. Morgan ranked seventh in the PFL in all-purpose yards last year at 94.0 per game. He enjoyed three straight 100-yard rushing performances from Sept. 17 to Oct. 1, becoming the first Crusader to do so since Jeff Horton in 2005. Snouffer racked up 102 tackles as a sophomore after finishing his freshman season with just 16. He ranked fourth in the PFL at 9.3 tackles per game and was one of only four players in the league to reach the 100-tackle mark. Gessinger was second in the PFL with 24.4 yards per kickoff return and led the league in total return yards with 757. He had two kickoff returns for touchdowns, one of three players in the FCS nation to achieve that feat. Gessinger also became the first player in Crusader history with two kickoff returns for touchdowns in a single season.
Disciplined Crusaders: Valparaiso led the Pioneer Football League in fewest penalty yards per game at 48.4 a year ago. They were called for just 54 flags in 11 games. Valpo is tied for 16th in the Division-I FCS nation in fewest penalties and tied for 15th in fewest penalties per game. Valpo also led the PFL in fewest penalties in Cecchini’s first season in 2014, a far cry from 2013, when they ranked eighth.
Oh Captain My Captain: Valparaiso enters the 2017 season with four captains: fifth-year senior defensive back J.J. Nunes, senior wide receiver Frank Catrine, junior linebacker Drew Snouffer and fifth-year senior linebacker Jay Slone.
Connection Corner: Valpo redshirt freshman offensive lineman Bryce Biggs and Duquesne freshman defensive back Terrence Brennan were teammates at Cypress Bay High School and both hail from Weston, Fla… Valpo’s J.J. Nunes and Duquesne’s Tommy Stuart are both Baltimore, Md. natives… Valpo’s Trey Stablein and Duquesne’s Collin Wittig are both from Delaware, Ohio… Valpo’s Antonio Dargaj and Duquesne’s Greg Claytor Jr. are both Shaker Heights, Ohio natives.