Jacksonville (2-6, 1-5 PFL)
at Valparaiso (1-8, 1-5 PFL)
Game #10: Saturday, Nov. 10, Noon CT
Brown Field (5,000 – ProGrass) – Valparaiso, Ind.
This Week in Valpo Football: This week is all about the seniors for the Valparaiso University football team as the program attempts to send a class that was instrumental in Valpo’s successful 2017 season out on a high note. It’s Senior Day at Brown Field and the 2018 home finale as the Brown & Gold welcome Jacksonville to town for a noon kickoff.
Last Time Out: Valpo found itself in a halftime hole that was too large to bounce back from after Marist scored 14 points in the final 30 seconds of the first half last week in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. as the Red Foxes prevailed 35-24. A bright spot for Valpo was the play of linebacker Drew Snouffer, who shared the team lead with 11 tackles while also scoring a defensive touchdown for the second time in three weeks. He recovered a fumble and took it 50 yards for a score, highlighting a game that saw him reach the 100-tackle milestone for the third consecutive season. Griffin Norberg hauled in a 66-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, while Deuce Larose was on the receiving end of a 2-yard score late in the game.
Following Valpo Football: This week’s game will be aired on ESPN+ (subscription available for $4.99 per month) with Todd Ickow (play-by-play) and Dave Huseman (color commentary) on the call. The game can also be heard on 95.1 FM Valparaiso. Links to live video, audio and stats can be found on ValpoAthletics.com. In addition, stay up to date with all things Valpo football by following @valpoufootball on Twitter.
Head Coach Dave Cecchini: Now in his fifth season as the program’s head coach, Cecchini has lifted Valpo football to new heights during his time in charge, turning a team that had won just three total games in the four seasons prior to his arrival - all against the same opponent - into one that finished with its first winning season since 2003 in 2017. Last year saw the program turn a corner as Valpo went 6-5 overall and 5-3 in Pioneer Football League play. Cecchini became the first Valpo coach since 2003 to earn PFL Coach of the Year honors. He was also named a finalist for the FCS Coach of the Year Award, the AFCA FCS Region 4 Coach of the Year and a finalist for the AFCA FCS National Coach of the Year. Valpo finished tied for third in the league standings after being picked to finish 10th of 11. The Valpo head coach enters this week with a 16-37 record, both overall and in four plus years on campus. Prior to arriving in Northwest Indiana, Cecchini served as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Lehigh for four years.
Series Notes: This week presents Valpo with an opportunity to avenge perhaps its most disappointing defeat of the 2017 season as Valpo succumbed to the Dolphins 20-17 on Nov. 4 in Florida, the team’s lone loss in the last five games of the year. The Valpo offense managed only three points in the second half of that contest. Valpo is 3-7 all-time against Jacksonville, but won the most recent Brown Field meeting 42-39 in the 2016 season finale.
Snouffer Hits 100: With his 11-tackle performance last week at Marist, senior linebacker Drew Snouffer is up to 106 tackles for his collegiate career. This marks the third consecutive season that Snouffer has surpassed the century mark. He finished with 102 tackles as a sophomore and 106 as a junior. Snouffer became just the second Valpo player in the last 25 years to enjoy three straight seasons with 100 tackles or more, joining Alex Green (2013-2015).
Finding the End Zone: Snouffer notched his second defensive score in a three-week span last week at Marist, recovering a fumble and returning it 50 yards for a touchdown. He joined Dilan Scargle (0 yard fumble return last season) as the only Valpo players with fumble return touchdowns since 2012, when Devan Gadson had a pair. The 50-yard fumble return for a TD was Valpo’s longest since James Riker in the PFL Championship Game on Nov. 22, 2003 against Morehead State. Riker had a 76-yard fumble recovery TD for the only first-quarter points of an eventual 54-42 Valpo win. Snouffer is the first Valpo player with two defensive TDs in the same season since Gadson in 2012 (two fumble recovery TDs) and the first with both a pick six and a fumble return for a score in the same season in over 20 years.
Valpo in Season Finales: Valpo has had good success in claiming Senior Day victories during the Dave Cecchini Era. The team has prevailed in the home finale in three of the last four seasons. Valpo topped Davidson in 2014 and Jacksonville in 2016 before finishing last year’s home slate with a win over Dayton.
About the Senior Class: Valpo will honor 29 players as part of Senior Day on Saturday. The team has 11 players who will be out of college eligibility after next week’s game at Stetson: Jean Rene, Griffin Norberg, Mike Wheeler, Drew Snouffer, Josmar Diaz-Martinez, Gowan Baldwin, Eric Rentschler, Tom Schofield, Shannon Taliaferro, Mason Sutter and Alex Ng. Two others are seniors but will play in four games or fewer this season, keeping them eligible to receive a redshirt year if they choose – Nick Turner and Jalin LeAndre. In addition, Valpo has 16 redshirt juniors on the roster, many of whom may return as fifth-year seniors next season.
Norberg Notes: Senior wide receiver Griffin Norberg is up to 16 career touchdowns (14 receiving) including a team-high seven this season. He needs two more TD grabs to enter the Top 5 in program history for touchdown receptions in a single season. In fact, he already has the most receiving TDs by a Valpo player in a single season since Tanner Kuramata had eight in 2013. Before that, the most recent player with seven or more was Ross Wiemer, who finished with 10 in 2008. Norberg is one of 41 players in Division-I FCS with seven or more TD catches this year. He’s one of eight PFL players with seven TD catches or more. In addition, Norberg is on the verge of entering the Top 10 in program history for career receiving yards. He enters Saturday’s game against Jacksonville needing just 50 yards to crack the career Top 10. He begins the day with 1,487.
Lightning Strikes Twice: One on-side kick recovery had been rare enough for Valpo football, but two in a three-week span by the same player? That’s certainly worth noting. When J.D. Koehler recovered an on-side kick by Dimitrios Latsonas on Oct. 20 at Morehead State, it was Valpo’s first successful on-side kick since the start of the 2008 season (previously 0-for-11 in that span). Then, Koehler recovered another Valpo on-side kick on Nov. 3 at Marist. Valpo is the only team in the PFL with two on-side kick recoveries this season – in fact, the league’s other nine teams combine for two.
Dropped Behind the Line: Mike Wheeler racked up 2.5 tackles for loss last week at Marist, marking the highest single-game total by a Valpo player this season. In fact, it marked the highest single-game total in that area for a Valpo player since Drew Snouffer also had 2.5 on Sept. 30, 2017 vs. Stetson. The last Valpo player with more than 2.5 TFL in a game was John Guilford, who had 3.5 in 2015 vs. Dayton. As a team, Valpo had eight tackles for loss, the team’s highest total this season. Over the last two weeks, Valpo has 14 TFL after having six on Oct. 27 vs. Drake. Prior to the game against the Bulldogs, Valpo hadn’t had six or more TFL in a single game since Sept. 24, 2016 vs. Davidson (nine) and has now done so back-to-back weeks.
Tacking on the Point After: After setting the single-season program record with 35 PATs last season, kicker Dimitrios Latsonas is three away from climbing into the Top 5 in program history again this season. He needs four more PATs to become the first player in program history with 30+ PATs in two different seasons.
Scouting Jacksonville: If there’s one thing that’s well known about Jacksonville, it’s this: The Dolphins can run the football. Jacksonville ranks second in the PFL in rushing offense with 343.5 yards per game on the ground (behind only Davidson) but 10th in passing offense at 44.5 yards per game. It all starts with sophomore quarterback Calvin Turner Junior, who leads the PFL in three categories – rushing (167.8 yards per game), scoring (13.0 points per game) and all-purpose (169.4 yards per game). Kicker Javier Acre-Ramirez is the only man in the PFL perfect on PATs at 30-for-30. On defense, Jacksonville has yet to get a red-zone stop as all 37 times the opposition has moved it into the red zone, it has resulted in points. Jacksonville earned its first victory of PFL play last week with a 48-44 win over Butler. Valpo and Jacksonville have had similar seasons in the sense that both teams only have one PFL win (against Butler) and both have had several other games that came down to the wire. The Dolphins had the misfortune of dropping three straight by seven points or fewer at Davidson (44-37), vs. Marist (20-17) and vs. Stetson (38-35). Head coach Ian Shields is in his third season.
Player-by-Player Quick Hits – Projected Offensive Starters
- WR Griffin Norberg - Has 16 career touchdowns (14 receiving) including a team-high seven this season… In fact, accounts for seven of Valpo’s 15 receiving TDs this year.
- LT Andrew Lundberg – Has started every game this season and has been a fixture on the offensive line since the start of the 2016 season, missing just two games.
- LG Eric Rentschler – Computer engineering major who was named to the Academic All-PFL Second Team last season. Works in the Valpo IT Department. Local to Northwest Indiana as a Highland graduate. Has played in 34 straight games.
- C Jack Jarnigan – Has missed just one game since the start of the 2016 season…. Off the field, works as a graduate assistant in Valpo’s sports information department.
- RG Tom Schofield – Became the first Valpo offensive lineman to catch a pass since 2003 on Sept. 29 vs. Davidson. Has played in all 41 games during his collegiate career. Member of the 2017 All-PFL Second Team.
- RT Shannon Taliaferro – Has appeared in 26 straight games.
- TE Mason Sutter – Has played in all 41 games of his collegiate career. Has caught at least one TD pass in each of his four seasons and has five for his career… Led the team with 82 receiving yards on five receptions on Oct. 13 against Butler, earning the team’s Offensive Player of the Week award… Had a career-high 96 receiving yards on Oct. 27 against Drake.
- WR Bailey Gessinger – Found the end zone for the third straight week on Oct. 27 vs. Drake, this time via his first TD reception of the season and the third of his career.
- WR JD Koehler – Has recovered an on-side kick in two of the last three games.
- QB Chris Duncan – Passed for over 300 yards for the first time in his collegiate career on Oct. 27 vs. Drake while also throwing a career-high three touchdown passes.
- RB Cody Boxrucker – On Oct. 13 against Butler had three rushing TDs in a single game for the second straight season after he did so against Trinity International last year. He became the first Valpo player to rush for three touchdowns in a game against a Division-I opponent since Jake Hutson on Sept. 28, 2013 against Campbell… Owns 17 career rushing touchdowns.
Player-by-Player Quick Hits – Projected Defensive Starters
- DE Jesse Studyvin – Back after missing last season with an injury. Recipient of Team Type 1 Foundation scholarship for individuals with Type 1 Diabetes and played against fellow recipient and Truman State quarterback Jaden Barr earlier this season… President of Valpo’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
- NT James Reed – High school teammates with Jesse Studyvin at Saint Pius X… Named the Valpo Defensive Player of the Week for his performance on Oct. 13 against Butler, when he racked up a career-high eight tackles, second on the team in that game.
- DT Jake Trumpower – Has played in 24 consecutive games.
- OLB Mike Wheeler – Co-President of Valpo’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes…. Had 2.5 TFL on Nov. 3 at Marist, equaling the most by a Valpo player in a single game since 2015.
- OLB Austin Petrie – Had a career-high 10 tackles in the season opener against Duquesne. Started his collegiate career as a running back before being converted to linebacker… Had 2.0 sacks on Oct. 27 vs. Drake, the most by a Valpo player in a single game since John Guilford in 2015.
- ILB Matthew Messler – Redshirt junior who made the most of his first career start on Oct. 13 against Butler. He made a critical interception with 6:54 remaining in the fourth quarter and returned it all the way to the Butler 2, helping Valpo secure the Hoosier Helmet rivalry trophy for the second straight season.
- ILB Drew Snouffer – Over 100 tackles for the third straight season. Ranks fifth nationally in total tackles with 106 and sixth in tackles per game at 11.8.
- CB Cam Kelly – Had three pass breakups and a pair of tackles on Oct. 20 at Morehead State.
- FS Jamari Booker – Had 20 tackles on Sept. 29 against Davidson, becoming the fifth player in the FCS nation with 20 or more tackles in a single game this season. Also became the first Valpo player since at least 2002 with 20+ tackles in a single game.
- SS Michael Scarsella – The Valpo native and true freshman made his first career interception to highlight his first career start on Oct. 13 against Butler… Turned in 10 tackles on Oct. 20 at Morehead State.
- CB Jalin LeAndre – Started all 11 games and had nine pass breakups in 2017. If he plays this week, it will mark just his third game of the season.
- CB Kohlton Sherman – Made his first career start on Oct. 27 vs. Drake.
Specialist Quick Hits – Projected Starters
- K Dimitrios Latsonas – Placed his name in the Valpo record book with his performance in 2017. His 11 made field goals tied for fourth in program history, while his 35 successful PATs established a single-season Valpo record. He also tied the single-game record for made PATs with seven against Morehead State on Oct. 28. In addition, Latsonas booted 10 touchbacks on kickoffs.
- P Kyle Ulbrich – Has averaged 34.8 yards per punt over 25 punts (long 49) this season.
- RS Bailey Gessinger –Member of the 2017 All-PFL Second Team... Named PFL Special Teams Player of the Week on Oct. 14… Has two kickoff returns for touchdowns this season and four in his career, one shy of tying a PFL record.
Preseason Accolades: Valpo had a trio of representatives on the 2018 Preseason All-Pioneer Football League Team. Senior linebacker Nick Turner, senior offensive lineman Tom Schofield and junior return specialist Bailey Gessinger all garnered preseason recognition. Turner was one of two Valpo players and four in the entire PFL to exceed 100 tackles last year. Schofield started all 11 games for an offensive line that helped Valpo finish tied for 10th nationally in fewest sacks allowed per game. Gessinger was on the preseason all-league team as a return specialist for the second consecutive year. Valpo was picked to finish tied for fourth in the 2018 PFL Preseason Poll, the team’s highest predicted finish since the PFL combined into one division in 2006.
Oh Captain, My Captain: Valparaiso enters the 2018 season with four captains: junior quarterback Jimmy Seewald, senior linebacker Drew Snouffer, senior linebacker Nick Turner and senior defensive back Josmar Diaz-Martinez. Snouffer is the lone captain in his second season in that role.
Wrapping Up 2017: Valpo football turned a corner a year ago, assembling its first winning season since 2003 while finishing in a three-way tie for third in the PFL after being picked to place 10th of 11 in the preseason poll. Valpo won four of its last five games and completed the season with 330 points scored, the second most in a single season in program history. Valpo also finished the year second in program history in yards of total offense with 4,398. Valpo defended Brown Field well, going 4-0 in PFL home games and winning four league home games in the same year for the first time ever. Valpo captured five league wins in the same season for the first time since 1961 and finished ahead of six teams in the league standings for the first time since 1954.