The seniors on the Valparaiso University football team made sure their final home game will elicit positive memories for years to come with Saturday’s 48-30 Senior Day victory over Jacksonville at Brown Field. The contributions from members of the senior class were numerous on a day where Valpo led from start to finish in a game that was never in doubt.
How It Happened
- If Valpo wins the coin toss, the team often defers to the second half, but against a triple-option offense, the coaching staff knew it wanted to set an early tone. That’s precisely what occurred on the first play from scrimmage, when senior Griffin Norberg (Sunrise, Fla. / Western) caught a pass from redshirt sophomore quarterback Chris Duncan (Woodland Hills, Calif. / Woodland Hills-Taft) and never looked back, taking it 75 yards for a touchdown.
- After the Valpo defense forced a Jacksonville punt, the second Valpo drive ended the same way as the first – with Norberg sprinting his way across the goal line after a pass from Duncan, this time for 45 yards to make it 14-0.
- On the second Jacksonville drive, the Dolphins (2-7, 1-6 PFL) picked up just one first down before Jordan Goebel (Lansing, Mich. / Grand Ledge) dropped Calvin Turner Junior behind the line for a loss of four to stymie a drive that ended with another punt.
- The ensuring Valpo drive featured another long catch for Norberg, but this time he didn’t find paydirt after a 25-yard gain to the Jacksonville 49. On 3rd-and-5 from the Jacksonville 44, Bailey Gessinger (Napanee, Ind. / Northwood) was the recipient of a 42-yard pass from Duncan. Valpo scored on the first play of the second quarter, a 2-yard pass to redshirt junior Parker Fox (Winamac, Ind. / Winamac) that made it 21-0.
- The Dolphins cut into the lead with points on each of their next two possessions, using a touchdown followed by a field goal to make it 21-10 with 8:03 left in the second quarter. Dimitrios Latsonas (Westmont, Ill. / Westmont) had his 32-yard field goal try deflect off the right upright and go through to boost the lead back to 14 at 24-10 with 4:39 remaining in the second quarter.
- Latsonas made it 2-for-2 with a 21 yarder that came in the final minute of the second quarter, sending Valpo into the locker room with a 27-10 advantage. That possession started after a Jacksonville turnover, when junior Jamari Booker (Kentwood, Mich. / East Kentwood) forced a fumble that was recovered by Josmar-Diaz-Martinez (Miramar, Fla. / Miramar) in the end zone for a touchback after Jacksonville completed a pass to the Valpo 2-yard line.
- After an Austin Petrie (Livonia, Mich. / Stevenson) sack helped force a three-and-out on Jacksonville’s first drive of the second half, Valpo dipped into its Senior Day bag of a tricks, using a play reminiscent of the Jarrett Morgan to Ryan Clarke go-ahead two-point conversion pass from last year’s finale against Dayton. This time, it was quarterback Ryan Markoff (Centerville, Ohio / Archbishop Alter) faking the run before completing a jump pass to senior tight end Mason Sutter (Woodstock, Ill. / Woodstock), who made the 2-yard TD grab to put Valpo up 34-10 with 11:10 to go. It was the first completed pass of Markoff’s career.
- Valpo’s fourth-year players continued to make key contributions down the game’s final stretch. With the score at 34-17, redshirt junior Elias Earley (Land O’Lakes, Fla. / Carrollwood Day) plunged into the end zone from 1 yard out to make it 41-17 with 1:59 left in the third.
- Booker forced a turnover for the second time in the game by intercepting a pass by Turner Jr. and returning it 35 yards to the Jacksonville 17 with 11:40 remaining. That set the stage for Earley’s second TD run, this one from 15 yards to put Valpo up 48-24. The hosts held on to win 48-30.
Inside the Game
- Norberg racked up a career-high 173 receiving yards, averaged 34.6 yards per reception and scored two touchdowns on his Senior Day. The performance pushed him into the Top 10 in program history in career receiving yards with 1,660, a number that ranks seventh all-time. He also entered the program’s Top 5 for TD catches in a single season with nine, which ranks tied for fifth.
- Duncan threw for over 300 yards for the second time in the last three weeks, going 15-of-28 through the air and averaging 20.1 yards per completion while tossing three touchdowns. He finished the day with 302 passing yards, exactly matching his career high, which was set two weeks ago against Drake.
- Earley rushed for a career-high 75 yards, leading the team in that area. Two of his 15 carries went for touchdowns, the first two TDs of his Valpo career.
- Latsonas had six extra points in the game, moving into the Top 5 in program history for single-season PATs with 32, which ranks fourth. He set the single-season program record with 35 converted PATs last year and is now the only player in program history with 30+ PATs in two different seasons.
- Valpo has had good success in claiming Senior Day victories during the Dave Cecchini Era. This marked the team’s fourth win in the last five home finales.
- Booker’s interception was his second of the season and the third of his career. He also finished with 11 tackles.
- Redshirt junior Matthew Messler (Charlotte, N.C. / Adrey Kell) had a career day, racking up 18 tackles including 1.5 TFL. Messler had the second-highest single-game tackle output in the entire PFL this season behind only Booker’s 20 on Sept. 29 vs. Davidson. Senior Mike Wheeler (Fullerton, Calif. / La Habra) also achieved a career high in tackles with 13 on Saturday.
- Valpo totaled 465 yards of offense, a season high and the team’s highest total since 597 against Morehead State on Oct. 28, 2017. The 48 points were also a season high.
Thoughts from Head Coach Dave Cecchini
“This was a great team win. It was probably the best and most consistent four quarters of football we’ve put together all season, right from Griffin’s big touchdown on the first offensive play of the game. That is something that we talked a lot about as a coaching staff – we wanted to get Jacksonville in a hole right from the get-go. When you play a team that has a good triple option offense like Jacksonville has, if they are coming from behind, they are a much different team than when they are playing with the lead or a tied score.”
“We wanted to take the ball and be aggressive early. Chris came out and threw a great ball on the first play and Griffin ran a great route and played an outstanding game. That really set the tone. It was more than just the offense – the defense stepped up and got some stops early on. It was that great first quarter that enabled us to really take control of the football game and keep Jacksonville out of their comfort zone.”
“We stepped up and kept our foot on the gas pedal. It wasn’t a perfect second half; we gave up some drives and missed a big-play opportunity here or there on offense, but overall anytime you play well enough in a game where the outcome isn’t in doubt for the final six or seven minutes, that’s a great day.”
“Despite their record, Jacksonville is a very talented team. We talked a lot as a coaching staff about how their season has mirrored ours in the sense that they had a lot of players coming back and they’ve had a lot of injuries that they’ve dealt with this season. Our season hasn’t gone as well as we had hoped, and the same thing was the case for Jacksonville. It was great to see our players go out there and compete as hard as they did and execute as well as they did for four quarters.”
“It’s huge to send our seniors off with a win in their last home game. We talk about it a lot – it’s a program where we consistently rely on our seniors to step up and lead by example. We have a big group of seniors, and they all spoke to the team last night. It took about an hour to get everybody through, and they did a good job sharing their experiences. There were a couple of funny moments, but also a couple honest, real and emotional realizations that they’re coming down to the end of their career and you have one or two more opportunities before this game is taken away from you. It’s a privilege to play this game at the college level, it’s not a right. It’s really important for us to go out there and play all of our seniors and have guys like Elias Earley step up and play some of their best football on Senior Day. It’s been the case the last few years where any time it’s the last home game, our senior class steps up and plays terrific football.”
Valpo (2-8, 2-5 PFL) will close out the 2018 season next week with a trip to DeLand, Fla. to play Stetson. The game kicks off at noon CT and can be viewed on ESPN+, heard on 95.1 FM Valparaiso or followed via live stats.