Facing a 17-point deficit with 10 minutes to play, the Valparaiso University football team knew it had a tall mountain to climb on Saturday at Morehead State. Valpo nearly climbed that mountain, cutting the deficit down to seven and had the ball with 1:15 remaining, but the effort came up just short as the Eagles made a game-sealing interception in the final minute of a 31-24 win.
How It Happened
- In a game that on paper figured to feature plenty of offense, it was the defense on both sides that garnered the spotlight in the first quarter. Neither team scored in an opening period that saw the two teams combine for four punts and one turnover on downs.
- Morehead State (3-4, 2-2) broke through with the first score of the game as Lawson Page found Sugar Ray Wyche for a 23-yard touchdown to make it 7-0 with 14:47 to go in the second quarter.
- The Eagles used a 12-play, 73-yard drive ending with a 6-yard rush by Page to double the lead to 14-0.
- A Valpo defense that played a strong first half accounted for the team’s first points of the game. Drew Snouffer (Columbus, Ohio / Upper Arlington) made one of the biggest plays of his enormous day with a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown with 6:17 left in the first half to make it 14-7.
- After Valpo forced a three-and-out defensively, the offense showed life as a 19-yard pass from Chris Duncan (Woodland Hills, Calif. / Woodland Hills-Taft) to Cody Boxrucker (West Chester, Ohio / Badin) pushed it into Morehead State territory. Duncan found Jean Rene (Delray Beach, Fla. / Wellington Community) for a 10-yard gain on a key 3rd-and-8, but four straight incomplete passes led to a turnover on downs after a pivotal 4th-and-5 from the Morehead State 22.
- The Eagles took over on downs with 1:54 left in the second quarter and went 78 yards on seven plays to boost the edge back to 14 at 21-7 after a 4-yard TD run by Page.
- After a nine-play, 65-yard drive that started the second half, Morehead State opened up its largest lead of the game at 28-7 with 10:29 left in the third quarter.
- Valpo’s best drive of the day to that point started with 4:42 left in the third and finished with 13:34 remaining in the fourth as Parker Fox (Winamac, Ind. / Winamac) took a direct snap and plunged into the end zone from 2 yards out to make it 28-14. Rene had an 18-yard catch from Duncan and Boxrucker contributed a 17-yard rush to highlight that drive.
- The defense held strong in the red zone on the next Morehead State drive, forcing the Eagles to settle for a 35-yard field goal that made it 31-14 with 9:50 remaining.
- At that juncture in the game, Valpo needed instant offense. Instead, the team got points without ever sending the offense on to the field as Bailey Gessinger (Napanee, Ind. / Northwood) broke off a timely 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, keeping hope alive for his team by narrowing the deficit to 10 at 31-21 with 9:43 left in the fourth.
- Morehead State had first-and-goal inside the Valpo 5 on the ensuing drive, but two plays later Snouffer came through again. The senior captain recovered a fumble by Page to allow Valpo to take back over, chasing by just 10.
- With Jimmy Seewald (Livonia, Mich. / Divine Child) returning to the quarterback position, Valpo marched 73 yards on 13 plays with passes for gains of over 20 yards going to Rene and Griffin Norberg (Sunrise, Fla. / Western). Valpo eventually made it a one-possession game as Dimitrios Latsonas (Westmont, Ill. / Westmont) nailed a 31-yard field goal to cut it to 31-24 with 1:19 remaining.
- The excitement continued to build on the Valpo sideline after the ensuing kickoff. Latsonas booted a perfect onside kick that took the ideal hop and was recovered by JD Koehler (St. Charles, Mo. / Francis Howell) at the Morehead State 46.
- Two plays later, Valpo’s comeback magic ran out, as Morehead State made the game-sealing interception.
Inside the Game
- Gessinger has kickoff return touchdowns of 90+ yards each of the last two weeks. As a freshman, he became the only player in Valpo history with two kickoff return touchdowns in a single season. Now, he’s the only man in program history who has achieved that feat twice.
- Gessinger became just the fourth player in the FCS nation with two kickoff returns for touchdowns this season. He now has four career kickoff returns for scores, putting him one shy of the Pioneer Football League record of five set by Butler’s Ryan Zimpleman (1998-2000).
- Snouffer was the star of the day for Valpo’s defense, racking up a team-high 13 tackles to go along with an interception, fumble recovery and sack. The interception was his first of the season and the third of his career, one in each of his last three seasons. The fumble recovery was the fourth of his career and his first this season.
- Snouffer became the first Valpo player with a pick six in 2018. The last time a member of the team accomplished that feat was Jamari Booker last season, and it also came against Morehead State. Booker had a 13-yard interception return for a TD in a 63-32 win at Brown Field.
- True freshman Michael Scarsella (Valparaiso, Ind. / Valparaiso) continued to play an increased role on an injury-plagued Valpo defense as he racked up 10 tackles, second on the team.
- Fox’s touchdown was his first of the season and the first rushing TD of his career. He also had a pair of receiving TDs in 2017.
- Valpo’s last three trips to Morehead have resulted in narrow victories for the hosts. The seven-point defeat on Saturday was actually the most lopsided of Valpo’s last three defeats at Morehead State.
- The successful onside kick recovery was Valpo’s first in over a decade.
- Valpo limited Morehead State’s rushing game to 159 yards on 45 carries, but Page passed for 352 yards. Boxrucker had 15 carries for 68 yards, while Rene led the receiving corps with five catches for 66 yards. Duncan went 10-of-19 for 106 yards, while Seewald went 9-of-19 for 95 yards.
- Injuries remained a tough obstacle for Valpo. The team played without its starting running back, both starting cornerbacks and senior captain starting linebacker. In addition, a starting safety was disqualified on a targeting call and another starting defensive back left with an injury.
Thoughts from Head Coach Dave Cecchini
“It all starts with us as coaches. We have to do a better job. I give Morehead State credit, they did a great job hitting hard and tackling effectively, but we left too many plays out on the field and had missed opportunities. We have to find a way to be a more consistent offense. Again, that starts with us as coaches and we’ll address it.”
“Their quarterback played well. We did a solid job on defense. Drew’s interception return for a touchdown really sparked our football team. We weren’t perfect, and we’ve got to continue to work on our pass rush. With a young defensive backfield, it was inevitable to allow some of those big plays. Finding ways to get more pressure on the quarterback is something we need to address as coaches and figure out going forward.”
“We had to use two timeouts on substitutions, but that’s because we are trying to get healthy bodies on defense. We got caught with 12 once and had to call two timeouts because we had 10. Normally, that’s inexcusable at this point in the year, but the group that’s out there is not the one that started the season. Guys are trying their best, and we’re moving guys from one position to another to try to stay healthy.”
“You’re banged up pretty much every season right around this time, and unfortunately we are even more banged up than we normally would be at this point in the season. We’ll have to address our depth at several positions tomorrow and it’s our job to find 11 healthy bodies on each side of the ball who can go out and help us win a football game against Drake next week.”
“We know that every game is going to be a battle with a chance to win football games. One of the long-term benefits when you have to play guys like Scarsella is that it’s valuable experience that will pay off for those players down the road. We still have a lot of good football left in us this season, and we’re going to go out and try to win every game.”
Valpo (1-6, 1-3) will return home next week for a date with Drake. The game will kick off at 1 p.m. CT and will be available on ESPN+ in addition to 95.1FM Valparaiso. Links to live video, audio and stats are available on ValpoAthletics.com.