The Valparaiso University football team scored touchdowns on its first three drives of the game as part of a high-scoring affair at Brown Field in front of a large homecoming crowd on Saturday afternoon. However, visiting Davidson kept pace early before eventually recording a late, go-ahead score to head home with a 40-35 win.
How It Happened
- The first seven possessions of the game all resulted in touchdowns. It started with a 2-yard TD run by Wesley Dugger to cap Davidson’s opening drive and give the Wildcats at 7-0 lead with 9:07 left in the first quarter.
- Valpo’s offense also set the tone early as Griffin Norberg (Sunrise, Fla. / Western) made another big play on the third Valpo snap of the day. This one went for 62 yards on a sharp pass from quarterback Jimmy Seewald (Livonia, Mich. / Divine Child), who made his first start of the season. That tied the game at seven with 7:59 left in the first quarter.
- Davidson had another quick strike as Eli Turner caught a 33-yard TD pass from Tyler Phelps. That was followed by another crisp scoring pass from Seewald, this one for 16 yards to Jean Rene (Delray Beach, Fla. / Wellington Castillo). The drive was set up by a 31-yard kickoff return by Bailey Gessinger (Napanee, Ind. / Northwood). The Valpo touchdown made it 14-14 with 3:42 left in the first quarter.
- William Wicks had a 36-yard rush on the first play of the second quarter to put Davidson right back in front at 20-14. The PAT failed to keep it a six-point deficit.
- Valpo’s offense continued its dominance as Seewald completed his first five passes of the next drive highlighted by a 17-yard hookup with Gessinger. That set the stage for Kyle Cartales (Loxahatchee, Fla. / Cardinal Newman), who punched it into the end zone from 2 yards out to give Valpo its first lead of the game at 21-20.
- A long Davidson drive took nearly seven minutes off the clock and featured a pair of third-down conversions and one fourth-down conversion, resulting in a 1-yard TD run by Wesley Dunger to put the Wildcats back on top 27-21.
- Valpo’s next drive resulted in the first stop of the day by either team as it ended with a punt. The highlight of the drive came when Tom Schofield (Chicago, Ill. / St. Rita), a fixture on Valpo’s offensive line since his freshman year, hauled in a deflected pass for a first-down reception that went for 9 yards.
- Davidson found the end zone again on its final drive of the half and took a 34-21 lead into the locker room.
- Valpo received the second-half kickoff and resumed its offensive dominance, marching down field with a nine-play, 70-yard drive that ended with a 16-yard Chris Duncan (Woodland Hills, Calif. / Woodland Hills-Taft) to Rene touchdown pass to make it 34-28. That drive also featured an 18-yard catch by Mason Sutter (Woodstock, Ill. / Woodstock).
- Josmar Diaz-Martinez (Miramar, Fla. / Miramar) made a big play on Davidson’s fourth-and-2 from the Valpo 35, making a tackle for a loss of six. That marked the first Davidson drive of the game that didn’t result in a touchdown.
- Later in the third quarter, Christian Campbell (South Bend, Ind. / Washington) made an interception on a deflected pass at the 50-yard line and returned it 25 yards to the Davidson 25. That set up a short field for Valpo, but the drive was halted by an interception.
- With Valpo still down six, the hosts went on an eight-play, 82-yard drive to take a 35-34 lead with 4:19 left in the fourth quarter after a 3-yard touchdown run by Duncan. Rene (20 yards) and Sutter (27 yards) both had key receptions on the go-ahead drive.
- A 1-yard TD run by James Story put Davidson back in front 40-35 in the final minute of the game. Valpo’s last gasp resulted in a turnover on downs near midfield.
Inside the Game
- Valpo was led defensively by Jamari Booker (Kentwood, Mich. / East Kentwood), who racked up 20 tackles. Entering the weekend, 20 tackles ranked tied for second most in the FCS nation this season. The 20 tackles marked the most by a Valpo player in a single game since at least the 2004 campaign.
- Rene became the first Valpo player this season with two touchdown receptions in a single game. The last time a Valpo player had multiple TD catches in the same game was last year, also on homecoming (Sept. 30 vs. Stetson, Donny Navarro).
- Valpo racked up 400 yards of offense, its highest output since Nov. 4, 2017 at Jacksonville (405). The Wildcats accumulated 545 yards of offense on Saturday (379 rushing, 166 passing).
- Valpo had its highest rushing total of the season with 140 yards on the ground. That was the best performance by the Valpo running game since totaling 281 yards on Oct. 28, 2017 against Morehead State. Cartales had 16 carries for 78 yards and a touchdown, while Duncan added 49 yards on nine carries and a score.
- Norberg (four catches, 102 yards) and Rene (four catches, 52 yards) were the top two receivers for Valpo. Rene is up to nine career touchdown receptions after notching his first two of the season, while Norberg also has nine (three this season). Norberg has three touchdown catches of 58 yards or more this season and has accomplished that feat in three of the four games this year.
- Norberg has also had three games with 97 receiving yards or more this season. On Saturday, he exactly matched his season high of 102 that was set on Sept. 15 at Youngstown State. His career high is 104 in the 2017 opener at Montana.
- Campbell’s interception was his second of the season and the fifth of his career. It was his second interception return of 25 yards or more as he had a 29 yarder in 2016.
- Duncan went 6-of-8 passing for 100 yards and one touchdown, while Seewald completed 12 of his 20 pass attempts for 160 yards and two scores.
- Gessinger had six kickoff returns for 133 yards including a long of 31. He averaged 22.2 yards per return.
Thoughts from Head Coach Dave Cecchini
“This was obviously not the outcome we were hoping for. It was a disappointing game with a lot of bright moments. It’s one that we certainly could have won, but I don’t think we earned a victory today. Sometimes a close game like this comes down to a bad call or a bad bounce, but that wasn’t the case today.”
“As crazy of a back-and-forth game as it was, in the end our defense had an opportunity to make a stop with the lead after doing a great job for most of the second half and we failed to do so. Our offense had an opportunity to drive down and win the football game, and as well as we played most of the game offensively, we didn’t do that either. In the fourth-quarter of a hard-fought game, that’s what it all comes down to. Championship teams are going to step up in those moments and make championship plays and we failed to do that at the end of the fourth quarter. We’re disappointed.”
“It’s rough to give up two two-minute drill touchdowns in the game to a triple-option team. They are very talented, but usually two-minute drills are not the forte of triple option offenses, and we gave up two of those today. Our defense did an incredible job of digging deep. Coach (Ernest) Moore changed some things up at halftime. Our players competed and did not quit and I give them credit for that on the defensive side of the ball after such a frustrating first-half of football. In the second half, we played the way we thought we were capable of playing the whole game defensively. On the offensive side of the ball, we came out early in the game and played as clean of football as we have all year. It was nice to see Jimmy get in a rhythm. Unfortunately, as the game progressed, we couldn’t keep up the level of consistency that we needed to in order to maintain and expand the lead once we had our first lead of the game.”
“There were certainly a lot of bright spots, but overall we’re very disappointed with today’s outcome. Our football team is going to need one giant gut check to right this ship and get ourselves a big win next week at Dayton.”
Valpo will hit the road next week to visit the Flyers for a game that begins at noon Central Time. The rematch of last year’s dramatic season finale will be broadcast on 95.1 FM Valparaiso with Todd Ickow and Brandon Vickrey on the call. There will also be a Facebook Live video stream on the NCAA FCS Facebook Page. Links to live video, audio and stats will be available on ValpoAthletics.com.