Before Saturday’s Homecoming game against Stetson, Valparaiso University football head coach Dave Cecchini identified three keys to success – turnovers, penalties and special teams.
The goals of winning those areas were seemingly prophetic as they propelled the Crusaders to a dramatic 27-24 victory over the Hatters at Brown Field. The list of key plays for the Crusaders over the course of the afternoon is lengthy, but no play was larger than an interception by redshirt senior J.J. Nunes (Baltimore, Md. / Baltimore Lutheran) with 1:50 left, squashing a Stetson drive that had reached the Valpo 12 yard-line.
How It Happened
- The Crusaders started the scoring as Kyle Cartales (Loxahatchee, Fla. / Cardinal Newman) picked up right where he left off a week ago – this time getting it done through the air. After rushing for two touchdowns at Drake, Cartales started his week by hauling in a 13-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Jimmy Seewald (Livonia, Mich. / Divine Child) with 12:33 left in the first quarter. The biggest gain of the opening scoring drive was a 19-yard pass to Donny Navarro (Naperville, Ill. / Neaqua Valley) down to the Stetson 13.
- After a Stetson fumble on the ensuing kickoff, Parker Fox (Winamac, Ind. / Winamac) recovered at the Stetson 21 to put the Valpo offense right back on the field with favorable field position.
- The Crusaders came away with points again, as Dimitrios Latsonas (Westmont, Ill. / Westmont) put a 34-yard field goal through the uprights to build the lead to 10-0.
- The Hatters got on the board when Jonny Messina hit a 34-yard field goal with 14:17 to go in the second quarter. Stetson took another bite out of the deficit with a 21-yarder by Messina with 6:20 left to make it 10-6.
- The Crusaders marched down field and scored on a five-play, 69-yard drive that took only 1:27 and finished with a 19-yard TD grab by Navarro. Cartales was a key factor again, catching a 34-yard pass in addition to runs of 11 and 5 yards on the drive. Valpo led 17-6 with 4:38 left in the second quarter.
- The Valpo defense forced a Stetson turnover for the second time in the game as the ensuing Stetson drive ended with Drew Gedrys (McDonald, Penn. / South Fayette) forcing a fumble following a completed pass and Mike Wheeler (Fullerton, Calif. / La Habra) recovered at Stetson’s 18.
- The Crusaders settled for a 30-yard field goal by Latsonas, building the lead to 20-6.
- Stetson used a string of passes as part of a two-minute offense to make its way down field, eventually scoring with eight seconds left in the half on a 4-yard TD pass from Colin McGovern to Gordon Stetson. That trimmed Valpo’s lead to 20-13 at halftime.
- The Hatters embarked on a 16-play, 50-yard drive that took 8:05 to begin the second half, eventually moving a step closer with a 42-yard field goal by Messina to make it 20-16.
- Early in the fourth quarter with Valpo still leading by four, Seewald completed a 35-yard pass to Jean Rene down to the Stetson 38. Two plays later, Navarro hauled in a 38-yard TD, boosting Valpo’s lead to 27-16 with 12:29 left in the fourth.
- Another key special teams play occurred when Jordan Goebel (Lansing, Mich. / Grand Ledge) blocked a Messina 38-yard field goal try with 7:14 left, keeping the score 27-16 Valpo.
- After Valpo went three-and-out, Stetson drove 69 yards for a touchdown on a drive capped by an 8-yard TD pass from Colin McGovern to Justin Jordan.
- After a successful two-point conversion, the Hatters recovered an onside kick, then drove into the red zone. That’s when Nunes sent a huge Brown Field crowd into a frenzy with an interception on a pass to the end zone by McGovern. The pass came on third-and-10 from the Valpo 12 and the Hatters would likely have attempted a short field goal that could have tied the game had the pass fallen incomplete.
- After the pick, Cartales had rushes of 5 and 9 yards to move the chains, set up the victory formation and cue the sound of the Victory Bell ringing after the first home win of the young season.
Inside the Game
- The Nunes interception was his second of the season and the third of his career – none larger than this one.
- After his first career two-score game, Navarro now has four touchdown receptions this season.
- Cartales picked up his fourth career TD overall and his second career receiving score.
- Seewald became just the second Crusader since 2007 to throw 20 career TD passes. He now has 22 in his career and he’s not even half way through his sophomore season.
- Latsonas improved to 6-for-6 on field goal tries on the season. Entering Saturday’s action, he was one of only 12 kickers nationally who had four or more made field goals without a miss.
- Seewald went 19-of-29 passing for 254 yards and three scores, while Cartales was the leading rusher with 14 carries for 58 yards.
- Navarro reached 100 receiving yards for the game on four catches, sharing the team lead in receptions with Cartales, who had four for 62 yards.
- The Hatters outgained the Crusaders 450-303, but Valpo won the penalty battle (Stetson committed eight for 99 yards), the turnover battle (3-0) and made key plays on special teams. The Crusaders limited Stetson to 4-for-17 on third down, but the Hatters did go 3-for-3 on fourth down.
- Junior Nick Turner (Gurnee, Ill. / Warren Township) led the team in tackles with a career-high 13, while junior Drew Snouffer (Columbus, Ohio / Upper Arlington) chipped in 11. Snouffer has reached double figures in four of the five games this season.
- The Crusaders improved to 4-1 in their last five Homecoming games.
- Valpo now has eight different players with receptions of 30 yards or more this season after Cartales joined that group on Saturday.
- Valpo went 4-for-4 in the red zone to improve to 17-for-17 in red-zone chances this season.
Thoughts from Head Coach Dave Cecchini
- Thoughts on the Game: “We knew going in it was going to be a 60-minute battle and that’s exactly what it was. We won the penalty battle and the turnover battle and got a couple of big turnovers. The big one that J.J. got at the end sealed the game. The fumble on the kickoff that allowed us to go up 10-0 before their offense had taken a snap was a huge play. Dimitrios had another great day kicking the football. The other big play was the blocked field goal. We certainly won in all three of those areas and that enabled us to win the game at the end.”
- On Stetson: “I want to give Stetson credit. Their quarterback played a tremendous football game. At times, we weren’t able to get pressure on him. It seemed like six times during the game, he was going down, and he actually completed passes and made plays. Hats off to him for the way he hung in there. Stetson’s defense stepped up and did a great job. They were very well coached on that side of the ball. They took a lot of risks and did a good job disrupting us.”
- On Seewald and Navarro: “Jimmy stepped up and did an outstanding job, and Donny played a great game. We knew there were going to be some big-play opportunities against the style of defense Stetson plays. We knew Jimmy was going to need to take a couple hits after he let go of the football, and it was worth it with the big-play opportunities to be had. We didn’t hit on all of them, but we hit on enough to win a football game, and that’s what it’s all about.”
The Crusaders hit the road to visit Campbell next Saturday. The game kicks off at 1 p.m. in Buies Creek, N.C. Links to live video, audio and stats can be found on ValpoAthletics.com.