The Valparaiso University football team looked like the group fans saw the first three weeks of the season in the first half of Saturday’s Pioneer Football League opener at Drake, but a veteran Bulldogs team pulled away after halftime for a 38-13 victory over the Crusaders. After amassing 237 first-half yards and trailing just 17-13 at the break, the Valpo offense was stymied in the second half.
How It Happened
- The Crusaders (1-3, 0-1 PFL) were as good as advertised offensively on their first drive of the game. Senior Frank Catrine (Springboro, Ohio / Bishop Fenwick) did something that’s become commonplace over his time with the team – made a big catch. This time it was a 36-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage. With help from an 11-yard run by junior Griffin Norberg (Sunrise, Fla. / Western), the Crusaders eventually worked their way down to the 1-yard line, where Kyle Cartales (Loxahatchee, Fla. / Cardinal Newman) plunged into the end zone to cap the drive.
- The extra point was blocked and nearly returned all the way for a Drake two-point conversion, but Martin Petruf (Hammond, Ind. / Whiting) broke free from three Bulldogs to slow the ball carrier just enough for two other Crusaders to arrive. Valpo retained a 6-0 lead with 11:57 left in the first quarter.
- With senior Grant Kraemer under center, Drake’s offense methodically made its way down field and scored on the opening drive, as Kraemer took it himself from 2 yards out to put the Bulldogs (2-2, 1-0 PFL) up 7-6 with 7:40 left in the first.
- Valpo punted on fourth-and-5 from midfield, pinning Drake on its own 9-yard line. That’s where the Bulldog offense went back to work, marching its way down field. Kraemer completed three passes of 17 yards or more on that drive alone, including a 34-yard touchdown to Steven Doran to make it 14-6 Drake with 1:12 left in the first.
- The next two possessions resulted in a Valpo turnover on downs and a Drake punt. Valpo’s ensuing drive featured a steady diet of Seewald, as the sophomore QB completed passes to JD Koehler (St. Charles, Mo. / Francis Howell), Donny Navarro (Naperville, Ill. / Neaqua Valley), Bailey Gessinger (Napanee, Ind. / Northwood) and Catrine, before a 17-yard rush by Cody Boxrucker (West Chester, Ohio / Badin) helped set up Cartales’ second TD carry of the day, this one from 2 yards out.
- Drake’s last drive of the half was aided by a fortunate bounce for the Bulldogs. On third-and-3 from Drake’s own 36, Kraemer’s pass was nearly intercepted and was deflected up into the air, but Devin Cates made the catch for a first down. The very next play was a 53-yard pass to Mitch McFarlane. Drake ended up with first-and-goal from the 4, but the Valpo defense stood tall, forcing Drake to settle for a 20-yard field goal by Danny Donley to make it 17-13 at the break.
- After both teams punted on their first drive of the second half, the Bulldogs embarked on a 13-play, 97-yard scoring drive that took 6:19 and served as one of the game’s turning points. The Bulldogs faced third down and 6 or more three times, and converted on all three occasions after being held to 1-of-5 on third down in the opening half. The drive concluded with Brock Reichardt plunging into the end zone from one yard out to make it 24-13 with 6:24 to play in the third.
- Drake slowed Valpo’s offense in the second half, as the Crusaders didn’t convert a first down in the third quarter and had just 57 yards of total offense after halftime.
- A 15-yard pass from Kraemer to Cates for a TD late in the third made it 31-13, then Taylor Murph’s 1-yard rush with 5:06 to play capped the scoring.
- Valpo had its first turnover of the day as Cam Kelly (Stamford, Conn. / The Brunswick School) made an interception in the end zone early in the fourth. That play marked the highlight of the second half for Valpo. The Bulldogs had three interceptions of their own in the second half.
Inside the Game
- Cartales had 68 yards rushing, eclipsing the total of 51 yards he accumulated over the first three weeks of the season. He established a new career high, boosting his previous best of 47 rushing yards last year at Dayton.
- Cartales’ touchdowns were his first two of the season. In fact, they marked the first and second rushing TDs of his Crusader career. His only score prior to Saturday was a TD reception at San Diego last year.
- Seewald finished 17-of-31 through the air for 173 yards. Catrine was Valpo’s leading receiver with three catches for 45 yards, while Mason Sutter (Woodstock, Ill. / Woodstock) also hauled in three passes for 33 yards.
- Valpo continued to display numerous weapons through the air, as 19 receptions were spread out among 11 different players.
- Kelly’s interception was the first of his career and Valpo’s third as a team this season.
- Drew Snouffer (Columbus, Ohio / Upper Arlington) paced Valpo’s defense again, leading the way with 12 tackles. Nick Turner (Gurnee, Ill. / Warren Township) and J.J. Nunes (Baltimore, Md. / Baltimore Lutheran) chipped in nine tackles apiece.
Thoughts from Head Coach Dave Cecchini
- Thoughts on the Game: “We came out as expected, really clicking on offense and moving the football with no three-and-outs early on. We were stopping the run, which was a big priority for us. We knew the quarterback was good, so we made them one dimensional through the first half. At halftime, we were in the game. There were moments I was disappointed in our defense and special teams, but when you have an offense clicking the way ours was, you look to the offense to step up. That third quarter changed the outcome of the game. Now, it’s back to the drawing board. We got beat by a better football team today.”
- On Drake QB Grant Kraemer: “Three out of the four teams we’ve played have had exceptional quarterbacks. There were three or four times where we had a guy right in his face, and he made a play. He made some great throws to keep drives going. He was the difference-maker on those third downs in the second half. I give him a lot of credit.”
- On Moving Forward: I know Drake was the better football team today, but we proved to everybody in the stadium in the first half that we absolutely can hang with these guys. The first half came down to a tipped ball; if the ball bounces our way we have the lead at halftime. We will continue to improve. I’m optimistic and excited that another year from now, we’ll be even more veteran than we are now. Next week is another game and another chance to get back in the championship hunt.”
It’s homecoming Saturday at Brown Field as the Crusaders welcome in the Stetson Hatters for the first Pioneer Football League home game of the season. The game kicks off at 1 p.m. CT. For those who can’t make it out to Brown Field, links to live audio and stats will be available on ValpoAthletics.com.