Dayton (5-5, 4-3 PFL)
at Valparaiso (5-5, 4-3 PFL)
Game #11: Saturday, Nov. 18, 1 p.m. CT
Brown Field (5,000 – ProGrass) – Valparaiso, Ind.
This Week in Crusader Football: Going on the road to defeat rival Butler and winning the Hoosier Helmet? That’s hard to top. But sending off the seniors by beating perennial Pioneer Football League power Dayton at Brown Field to secure the program’s first winning season since 2003? That’d be about as special as it gets. The stage is set for what figures to be a competitive showdown between two evenly-matched teams who enter the game with identical records both overall and in league play. The Crusaders would enjoy nothing more than to craft an unforgettable ending to a memorable season.
Last Time Out: There’s winning a regular season football game, and then there’s winning the PFL’s greatest rivalry game. Last week fell into the latter category. Facts and figures from last week’s game are numerous, but the stat that matters most is as follows – Valpo 36, Butler 28. Jimmy Seewald completed touchdown passes to three different players – Jean Rene, Donny Navarro and Jarrett Morgan. Backup quarterback Chris Duncan found the end zone for his first career rushing touchdown, while Dimitrios Latsonas converted three key field goals. The defense did its part as well, including Jalin LeAndre, who came up with an important interception, and Tristan De La Rosa, who recovered a fumble at the end of the interception return.
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 25th season as Valpo’s play-by-play broadcaster, Huseman is in his fifth season as the team’s color commentator. Saturday's game will also air on ESPN3. Links to live video, 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 week with a 14-29 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: The Crusaders are hoping to turn around their fortunes in a series that has been heavily slanted in Dayton’s favor since the two teams hooked up for the first time in 1988. The Flyers have captured 24 wins in 26 meetings with the only Valpo triumphs coming in 2000 and 2003. The 2003 game was a 33-28 Valpo victory in Dayton, while the only Crusader win over Dayton at Brown Field was 16-15 in 2000. Valpo has dropped 13 straight, including last year’s 37-21 defeat at Welcome Stadium. Last year’s game was the closest Valpo-Dayton matchup since 2003.
Defending Brown Field: The confines of Brown Field have provided a true edge for the Crusaders this season. Valpo has won four straight PFL home games, dating back to last year’s season finale, the program’s first such streak since 1999-2001, when Valpo won five straight league games at home. Saturday presents the Crusaders with a chance to finish the season undefeated in PFL home games. Regardless of Saturday’s outcome, Valpo will finish with a winning record at home for the second consecutive season after going above .500 in games played at Brown Field for the first time since 2004 in 2016. The Crusaders are 3-1 at home this year and the only loss was by five points to scholarship foe Duquesne. The Crusaders have won three PFL home games in the same season for the first time since 2003 and have a chance for four league home wins in the same year for the first time in program history.
A Look at the Standings: San Diego has locked up the PFL title with a 7-0 record entering the final week of the season, but after that there are six teams within 1 ½ games of each other. With a win on Saturday, Valpo will finish in a three-way tie for third with the Drake/Jacksonville loser and Campbell. If Valpo falls on Saturday, the Crusaders will finish in a tie for sixth with Butler in the 11-team league. Regardless of Saturday’s outcome, the Crusaders will finish with at least four teams behind them in the standings for the first time since 2003.
With a Win, Valpo Would: Finish with a winning record for the first time since 2003… Win six games in a season for the first time since 2003…Win four out of five for the first time since 2003… Finish with five league wins in the same season for the first time since 1961 and the third time ever… Finish in front of six teams in the league standings for the first time since 1954 and just the second time in program history.
Senior Salute: This year’s senior class has been a part of 14 wins over the last four seasons and has a chance to increase that number to 15 on Saturday. The seniors have already won the most games by a four-year senior class since 2008 (14) and can be the winningest four-year senior class since 2007 (16) with a victory over the Flyers. Here are some player-by-player quick hits on the seniors who are set to close out their Crusader careers this week.
- Jarrett Morgan: Has rushed for 1,204 yards in his career and is expected to appear in his 39th and final game in a Valpo uniform on Saturday. His career rushing total is the third highest of any Crusader in the last decade, behind Brandon Hall (1,427) and Jake Hutson (1,577). After not scoring a touchdown in any of his first four games this season, Morgan has five over the last four games, one receiving and four rushing.
- Frank Catrine: Will also play in his 39th career game on Saturday. The team captain has racked up 1,389 career receiving yards, seven receiving touchdowns, three rushing touchdowns and 123 total receptions.
- J.J. Nunes: A captain who was granted an additional season of eligibility from the NCAA, Nunes came to Valpo as a running back before being converted to the other side of the ball, where he’s been a standout for the Crusaders. Will play in his 33rd game in a Valpo uniform on Saturday and owns 227 tackles, four forced fumbles, nine tackles for a loss, one fumble recovery and three interceptions.
- Jay Slone: A captain who will play in his 31st career game on Saturday, has 78 career tackles. The fifth-year senior joins Nunes as the last two players in the program who were inherited by Dave Cecchini when he took over in 2014.
- Brandon Riley: Is questionable for Saturday’s game with a thumb injury that has kept him out most of the season… Has totaled 45 tackles in 23 career games.
- Ryan Clarke: Expected to play in his 36th career game on Saturday. Spent two seasons as Valpo’s quarterback, throwing for 1,781 yards and 13 touchdowns… Has been the team’s primary long snapper all season while also seeing time at tight end… Tied a program record by throwing five touchdown passes on Oct. 3, 2015, a win at Davidson.
- Jake Simpson: Had a strong junior season as Valpo’s kicker, making five of his eight field-goal attempts and going a perfect 27-for-27 on PATs… Went 2-for-2 on field goal tries in his collegiate debut last season against Illinois State with makes coming from 45 and 43 yards, with the 45-yarder the longest made field goal by a Valpo player in 10 years.
- John Regan: Most memorable play of his collegiate career came this season against Morehead State, when he recovered a punt in the Morehead State end zone for a touchdown. Will play in his 21st career game on Saturday.
- Tristan De La Rosa: A four-year starter and a fixture on Valpo’s defensive line who will play in his 41st career game on Saturday.
Crusaders in Season Finales: The Crusaders have had good success finishing the season out on a high note during the Dave Cecchini era, claiming victories in two of their last three season finales. Valpo topped Jacksonville to close the regular season in 2016 and Davidson in 2014 with both of those games taking place at Brown Field. Before the 2014 season, Valpo hadn’t closed out the season with a victory in a PFL game since 2004.
300 Club: Valpo has scored 322 points this season, last week cracking 300 points in a single year for the fourth time in program history and just the second time since 1951. Valpo needs seven points or more on Saturday to finish with the second-highest single-season team point total in program history. The program record for total points in a season is 406 in 2003, though 54 of those came in the PFL Championship, the team’s 12th game of the season. Valpo is averaging 32.2 points per game, which would rank fourth in program history. The 2003 season is currently third at 33.8, while the 1954 season entered this year fourth at 29.6.
4,000 Club: The Crusaders come into the final week of the season with 4,183 yards of total offense. They’ve surpassed 4,000 yards of total offense for the fifth time in program history and the second time under Dave Cecchini (2014 - 4,313). If the Crusaders accumulate more than 205 yards of offense on Saturday, they will finish with the second-most productive season in terms of total offense in program history. The 2003 team set the program record with 5,370.
Finding the End Zone: Valpo has 39 total touchdowns this season, which already puts 2017 in a tie for fourth in program history. Valpo could finish as high as third in that category if they reach the end zone three or more times on Saturday.
Rushing Prowess: One more rushing touchdown would give the Crusaders 20 rushing TDs this season, which would mark the sixth time in program history and the first time since 2000 that Valpo has rushed for 20 or more scores in a single year.
Aerial Attack: In the passing game, Valpo’s team completion percentage entering the final week of the season is .599, which would rank third in program history behind only 2012 (.621) and 2013 (.616) and ahead of the year that currently ranks third, 2011 (.582)… The 2017 Crusaders have already locked down fourth in program history for total yards through the air as a team. Valpo has passed for 2,780 yards, surpassing the 2011 (2,673) and 1983 (2,645) seasons last week. The Crusaders can finish third in program history for team passing yards in a single-season if they go for more than 310 yards through the air on Saturday… Valpo has passed for 20 TDs this season, needing two more to crack the program’s Top 5. Three passing TDs would put them in a tie for third in program history and four would create a tie for second.
Special Teams, Special Season: It’s been a noteworthy season for Valpo on special teams as well, as the Crusaders have 11 made field goals, which ranks fifth in program history. The program record for team field goals in a season is within reach, as the 2003 team made 14. Valpo had 13 field goals in 2002 and 1984 and 12 in 2000.
Latsonas Honored: Kicker Dimitrios Latsonas has accounted for all 11 of the team’s field goals this season, including three in last week’s win over Butler. That performance earned him the Pioneer Football League Special Teams Player of the Week award for the second time this season. Those three makes helped Latsonas crack the top five for made field goals by an individual in single-season program history, as he is now tied for fourth with Andrew McCawley, who had 11 in 2003. One more will move him into a three-way tie for second with Jacob Newman (2014) and Adam Hudak (2002), while two field goals on Saturday would allow Latsonas to match Kevin Mackey’s program record of 13, which has stood since 1984. Latsonas already etched his name into the program record book last week, reaching his 35th made PAT of the season. He shattered the previous record of 34, which was shared by McCawley (2003) and Eric Strasser (1999). Latsonas has scored a team-high 68 points this season, two away from cracking the program’s Top 5 in that category.
Seewald Spotlight: Jimmy Seewald has passed for 2,483 yards this season, which ranks fourth in program history. Eric Hoffman’s 2013 season is third at 2,976. Seewald has passed for 18 TDs, which ranks fifth in program history. He could move into a tie for fourth with two on Saturday, three would place him in a tie for third and four in a tie for second. Seewald owns 2,451 yards of total offense, which is third in program history. In his career, the Crusader quarterback has passed for 3,926 yards and needs 74 passing yards on Saturday to become just the seventh player in program history to reach 4,000 – and he’s only a sophomore. He’ll finish the season in the top six in program history in career passing yards if he passes for more than 90 on Saturday and he’ll crack the Top 5 if he passes for more than 135 yards in the season finale.
National Note: Of 123 FCS teams, Valpo ranks 18th in passing offense (278.0), 32nd in total offense (418.3) and 21st in turnovers gained (22) this season. Latsonas is ninth in the nation in field goal percentage at .846, while Seewald is 10th in passing yards per completion (14.87) and eighth in yards per pass attempt (9.03).
Navarro Keeps Catching Passes: Freshman Donny Navarro has continued to impress as he leads the team with 32 catches for 539 yards and five touchdowns. He moved past 500 receiving yards for the season on Saturday, becoming just the fourth Crusader in the last 10 years to hit 500, joining Tanner Kuramata, Andrew Cassara and Sean McCarty.
Scouting Dayton: The Flyers were picked to finish second in the PFL Preseason Poll, behind only defending champion San Diego. Dayton received two first-place votes, the only team other than San Diego to collect first-place tallies. Dayton went 7-1 in league play in each of the last two seasons, sharing the league title in 2015 before finishing as the runner up in 2016. Quarterback Alex Jeske led all PFL QBs in rushing yards a year ago. This year, he’s played in five games after returning from an injury and is throwing for an average of 223 yards per game (56-of-98 passing). Dayton has a quality punter as Sean Smith leads the league with a 42.5 average. The leading receiver is Adam Trautman, who has 37 receptions for 457 yards and four touchdowns, while Tucker Winger leads the rushing attack with 892 yards and four scores on 170 carries. This is Rick Chamberlin’s 10th season as Dayton head coach and his 42nd with the program as a player, assistant coach and head coach. The Flyers need a win on Saturday to avoid their first losing season since 2006. Dayton’s scoring offense is eighth of 11 at 23.1 points per game and their total offense is 10th of 11 at 354.3 yards per game, but their strength is their defense, which is limiting opponents to 20.9 points per game, second in the league behind only San Diego. Playing over half of the season without their starting QB, Dayton’s passing offense is 10th in the league at 182.1 yards per game. The Flyers are 4-1 since Jeske’s return from injury. Their defense has made 15 interceptions, second in the league behind only Campbell. Dayton owns a league-leading plus-12 turnover margin. They had a bye last week and carry a three-game winning streak into the season finale with victories over Davidson (48-22), Butler (27-22) and Marist (36-17).