The Valparaiso University football team surpassed 500 yards of offense and put together a late rally to give scholarship foe Duquesne everything it could handle on Saturday afternoon at Brown Field, as the Dukes held on for dear life to secure a heart-pounding 45-40 win over the Crusaders. Valpo’s record may show 0-2, but a closer look at the outcomes reveals the best start to a Valpo football season in recent memory. The Dukes (1-1) went 8-3 a year ago and are the preseason favorites to win the Northeast Conference.
How It Happened
- The Dukes held the upper hand in the early stages of the game, scoring touchdowns on each of their first two possessions, while Valpo’s first two possessions resulted in a punt and a turnover on downs.
- Quarterback Tommy Stuart found Nahari Crawford for both of Duquesne’s first quarter TDs – one coming with 8:39 remaining and the next at the 3:11 mark.
- The Crusaders made their way onto the scoreboard early in the second quarter when tight end Mason Sutter (Woodstock, Ill. / Woodstock) hauled in a 13-yard pass from quarterback Jimmy Seewald to slice the deficit in half. That score was set up by a 34-yard Jean Rene (Delray Beach, Fla. / Wellington Community) reception.
- The Dukes responded on a 17-yard touchdown run by A.J. Hines, the reigning FCS Freshman of the Year. That boosted Duquesne’s lead to 21-7 with 10:22 left in the first half.
- The Crusader offense looked sharp on its next drive, marching down the field before capping the possession with a 4-yard TD run by Cody Boxrucker (West Chester, Ohio / Badin) with 6:01 remaining in the first half. A 23-yard scamper by Griffin Norberg (Sunrise, Fla. / Western) helped set up the TD, while Rene had a key 10-yard grab on a 3rd-and-8 earlier in the drive.
- The shootout continued for the remainder of the half, as the two teams again exchanged touchdowns. Chavas Rawlins had a 4-yard TD grab for the Dukes, while Norberg hauled in a 38 yarder for the Crusaders. The Seewald-to-Norberg TD came with 48 seconds left in the half after a 28-yard catch by Frank Catrine (Springboro, Ohio / Bishop Fenwick) aided the Valpo drive.
- Duquesne used a 37-yard Stuart-to-Crawford connection to set up a 35-yard field goal by John Domit just before halftime, making the score 31-21 in favor of the Dukes at the break.
- The Dukes seemed to be once again threatening to break it open when they turned the first drive of the second half into seven points and built the lead to 17, but the Crusader offense continued to match its opposition blow for blow. Freshman Donny Navarro (Naperville, Ill. / Neaqua Valley) made a 23-yard catch to bring the ball inside the 3, then Boxrucker eventually plunged in from 1 yard out for his second score of the game.
- Late in the third, Valpo had the ball deep in its own territory, down 38-28. The Crusaders pulled off a successful trick play on fourth-and-3, as punter Alex Ng (Royal Palm Beach, Fla. / Wellington Community) rushed four yards for a first down at the Valpo 19-yard line.
- After Duquesne scored again to push the lead back to 17 early in the fourth, it remained 45-28 until Navarro’s 6-yard TD grab made it 45-34 with 8:07 left. That touchdown was set up by a Dilan Scargle (Dunedin, Fla. / Clearwater Central Catholic) interception and a 12-yard return to the Duquesne 43. The pick was the first of the freshman’s career.
- The Dukes attempted a field goal with 2:35 remaining, but the try was no good to give Valpo possession down 45-34. Seewald heaved a bomb down field that was hauled in on a highlight-reel play by Parker Fox (Winamac, Ind. / Winamac) for an 80-yard TD. Fox made a leaping snag to come up with the ball despite being surrounded by Dukes. The two-point try was unsuccessful, so Duquesne’s lead was 45-40 with 2:18 left.
- The defense came through with a quick three-and-out, giving Valpo one final chance with 1:09 left. On third-and-5 from their own 38, the Crusaders saw their comeback come up shy when Brandon Stanback made an interception.
Inside the Game
- The Crusaders racked up 511 yards of offense, their most since Sept. 17 of last season against Trinity International (527). The last time Valpo had over 500 yards of offense against a Division I team was Sept. 27, 2014 at Campbell (533).
- Valpo passed for 427 yards, 424 of which came from Seewald. This marked Valpo’s most passing yards in a game since Sept. 14, 2013, when Eric Hoffman passed for a school-record 495 against William Jewell.
- Seewald’s 424 passing yards marked the most by a Valpo quarterback against a Division I opponent since David Macchi’s 452 against Jacksonville in 2003.
- The last time Valpo surpassed 450 yards of total offense back-to-back games was Sept. 14 and 28, 2013 against William Jewell and Campbell.
- Seewald finished with 26 completions for 424 yards and four touchdowns, coming one TD toss shy of matching Valpo’s single-game record. The 26 completions and 424 yards marked career highs for the sophomore.
- Norberg was a key contributor for a second straight week, notching 97 all-purpose yards.
- Rene (88 yards) and Catrine (63 yards) had six grabs apiece, pacing a group of eight receivers who made receptions.
- Fox racked up a game-high 154 receiving yards, shattering his previous career best of 14, and did so on three catches. The 80-yard completion was the longest of Seewald’s career, and in fact was Valpo’s longest completion since Eric Hoffman found Tony Taibi for 86 yards in 2013.
- Fox’s TD grab was the first of his career, while Navarro’s was his second in as many weeks. Sutter had his fourth career receiving TD, while Norberg’s was his second of the season and the sixth of his career.
- Boxrucker now has nine career touchdown runs on just 50 career carries.
Thoughts from Head Coach Dave Cecchini
- On His Team’s Attitude: “I’m proud of how hard our players fought in that second half. Even being down three scores, there was a different attitude on the sideline than there was in some of our previous games against scholarship teams. In the past, there was always a feeling on the sideline that, ‘This is what is supposed to happen when you go up against bigger, stronger, higher-caliber athletes.’ That wasn’t the case today.”
- On the Mentality: “Despite having some great drives on offense and struggles on defense early in the first half, the frustration on the sideline was channeled in the right way. It was anger that we’re better than this and we can do this. We’re a good enough football team to hang with this team. That was the mentality in the second half.”
- On the Offense: “From an offensive perspective, I’m thrilled with the way we played today. Jimmy played an outstanding football game. Parker stepped up. I’m really pleased with how we handled ourselves offensively against a very veteran Duquesne defense. The offensive line did a fabulous job protecting Jimmy. Without question, it’s the best pass protection we’ve had against a scholarship opponent in the four seasons I’ve been here.”
- On the Defense: “We were not ready for this game as a defense. That’s a very talented offense and we had a tough task ahead of us, but that’s on us as coaches, failing to get the defense ready for Duquesne’s pace of play. Our players physically got beat up and missed a lot of tackles, but we came back. We stepped up and had some huge stops in the fourth quarter. We never quit and never gave up. We didn’t fold. In years past and last week against Montana, there was a point where the physicality factor swung to our opponent’s side and never came back. That was not the case today; our players kept at it. We were competitive in all three phases, and that was great to see.”
The Crusaders will head to Trinity International in Deerfield, Ill. on Saturday, Sept. 16 to visit the Trojans. The kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. CT. Links to live video, audio and stats will be available on ValpoAthletics.com.