A strong first half wasn’t enough for the Valparaiso University football team on Saturday afternoon in DeLand, Fla. as host Stetson rounded out its turnaround season by scoring 21 unanswered points to start the third quarter in an eventual 45-31 victory. This marked the final game of the season and the last day of the careers of a memorable group of Valpo seniors.
How It Happened
- After throwing for over 300 yards in the home finale last week, Valpo redshirt sophomore quarterback Chris Duncan (Woodland Hills, Calif. / Woodland Hills Taft) picked up right where he left off by orchestrating an outstanding opening drive. Valpo quickly moved 59 yards on six plays and grabbed a 7-0 lead on a beauty of a back shoulder fade route by Parker Fox (Winamac, Ind. / Winamac) for a 19-yard score with 12:44 left in the first quarter. The drive also featured completions to Mason Sutter (Woodstock, Ill. / Woodstock) and Griffin Norberg (Sunrise, Fla. / Western) and a 10-yard rush by Cody Boxrucker (West Chester, Ohio / Badin).
- After the two teams exchanged punts, Stetson star tight end Donald Parham broke off a 64-yard TD on a pass from QB Colin McGovern to tie the game at seven with 5:02 left in the first quarter.
- Valpo forced the first turnover of the afternoon as Jamari Booker (Kentwood, Mich. / East Kentwood) knocked the ball loose and Jesse Studyvin (Barnhart, Mo. / St. Pius X) came up with a fumble recovery at the Stetson 44 with 3:28 left in the first.
- However, Valpo’s offense couldn’t capitalize on the turnover. The next points of the game came on a 14-yard pass from McGovern to Bensley Bornelus to put the Hatters ahead 14-7 with 11:38 left in the second quarter.
- A pair of Stetson penalties helped Valpo take over at the 50-yard line after the ensuing kickoff and the ball moved to the 35 after a pass interference call against the Hatters. That set the stage for a short field that Valpo took full advantage of as the drive culminated with Boxrucker plunging into the end zone from 1 yard out to tie the game at 14 with 8:06 left in the second quarter. The biggest play of the drive was a 19-yard rush by Ryan Markoff (Centerville, Ohio / Archbishop Alter).
- After a strong series for the defensive line that featured several passes swatted away at the line of scrimmage, Stetson was forced to punt from deep in its own territory. That’s when Matthew Messler (Charlotte, N.C. / Ardrey Kell) blocked a punt that was picked up by freshman Kellan McKeag (Apple Valley, Minn. / Apple Valley), who sprinted 25 yards for a Valpo touchdown. That put Valpo on top 21-14 with 6:41 remaining in the second quarter.
- Parham struck again in the final minute of the first half, this time hauling in a 5-yard pass from McGovern to tie the score at 21.
- Two of Valpo’s specialists made special plays in the final minute of the first half as Bailey Gessinger (Napanee, Ind. / Northwood) found a seam for a 46-yard kickoff return to the Stetson 47 with 29 seconds to go in the half. That set up an eventual 50-yard field goal attempt that was booted through the uprights by junior kicker Dimitrios Latsonas (Westmont, Ill. / Westmont) to put Valpo ahead 24-21 at halftime.
- Kolton Sherman (Millington, Mich. / Millington) made a one-handed interception on a deflected pass right on the sideline to force a Stetson turnover early in the second half. That Valpo drive resulted in a punt, and the Hatters followed with an 11-play, 80-yard drive that culminated with a 15-yard TD grab by Bornelus that put the hosts back in front 28-24 with 8:43 remaining in the third.
- Valpo (2-9, 2-6 PFL) went for it on 4th-and-5 from the Stetson 49 and didn’t convert, leaving the Hatters with a short field. They took advantage, taking the largest lead of the game by either team with a 23-yard TD reception by Luke McDermott that made it 35-24. Parham scored his third TD of the game on a 53-yard catch with 1:07 left in the third to boost the Stetson lead to 42-24.
- After being held scoreless in the third quarter, Valpo notched its first points of the second half one minute into the fourth as Duncan kept it himself for a 21-yard TD run to cut the lead to 11 at 42-31 with 14:06 remaining.
- Neither team scored again until the Hatters tacked on a field goal with under two minutes remaining. Stetson (8-2, 6-2 PFL) held on for a 45-31 victory in the season finale when Valpo’s final drive came to an end on a lost fumble.
Inside the Game
- Latsonas’ 50-yard field goal was a career long, shattering his previous personal best of 44 achieved on Sept. 2, 2017 at Montana. It was just the 26th made field goal of 50 yards or more in the Division I FCS nation this season and the first field goal of 50 yards or more by any PFL kicker this year. In addition, it marked the longest field goal by a Valpo kicker since Andrew McCawley’s 52 yarder on Nov. 8, 2003.
- Fox’s TD grab was his third of the season and the fifth of his career. He also has one rushing score this season.
- Studyvin’s fumble recovery was his second of the season, while Booker forced a fumble for the second time this year and the third time in his career.
- Boxrucker’s TD was his fourth of the season and the 18th of his collegiate career as only a junior.
- McKeag was playing in just his fourth game of the year and had recorded one solo tackle and two assisted tackles to comprise his season stat line prior to Saturday. He scored the first touchdown of his collegiate career. It was Valpo’s third special teams touchdown of the season to go along with two defensive scores.
- Sherman’s interception was the first of the freshman’s young collegiate career. He became the seventh Valpo player with an interception this season.
- Duncan’s rushing TD was his second of the season and the third of his career. Michael Scarsella (Valparaiso, Ind. / Valparaiso) turned in 10 tackles in the final game of his freshman season.
- Norberg made seven receptions for 65 yards to lead Valpo, while Duncan finished as the leading rusher with 88 yards on the ground.
- Norberg finished his strong senior season with 967 receiving yards and closed out his career with 1,725 yards, seventh in program history.
- Messler led the team in tackles for the second consecutive week, racking up 12.
- Austin Petrie (Livonia, Mich. / Stevenson) had another big week, recording a pair of sacks to finish with 5.5 for the season.
- The Valpo defense accumulated 10 pass breakups.
- With his four extra points on Saturday, Latsonas finished the season with 36, in the process shattering his own single-season school record of 35 set last season.
Thoughts from Head Coach Dave Cecchini
“I felt like we were in a great position at halftime, but I was a little worried about the conditions with the sun out and the humidity high. Our players had already played a lot of football and a lot of snaps. This was different from playing a triple option team – you don’t play as many snaps in those games as you do against Stetson. I do think that took a small toll. It wasn’t the reason we lost the football game, but we did have guys who were spent in the second half. It drained a little bit of energy when the momentum swung against us after our interception. The momentum started to snowball, and we couldn’t dig ourselves out. We struggled to stop Parham and we couldn’t make plays in man coverage on offense.”
“We played some incredible defensive football, particularly on first and second downs. Give credit to their quarterback and tight end; they made plays and a lot of times they were covered. We’ve got too many freshmen in the secondary – they’re going to be good football players, but they’re still young. When you’re an 18-year-old and you’re going up against a 22-year-old who is physically so much more mature, you’re going to get what you got today. Some of that is on injuries, and some of that is on us as coaches. We needed to do a better job protecting our secondary.”
“Last week against Jacksonville at home we saw some of our young players really starting to get their footing. We saw some of it here today, just not four quarters worth. Sometimes that’s another hallmark of a young player; you can do it, you just can’t do it consistently. Due to some injuries, we’ve got some good veterans coming back with guys like Nick Turner and Jimmy Seewald getting an extra year of eligibility. There is a ton of optimism going forward.”
“I wanted this game so badly for our seniors. They are such a fine group of young men that have battled through adversity. I was hoping we could go out on a high note after playing so well against Jacksonville and for the majority of the game today. It’s a very bright future with a lot of young players coming back. We need a great year in the weight room and it’s going to be a really spirited and very competitive year in the spring when we have 15 opportunities for spring practice. But right now I feel so bad for these seniors that are near and dear to my heart as our first full recruiting class. I love these guys and they’re a special group.”