The Valparaiso University football team achieved history on Saturday afternoon, notching the program’s first-ever victory at Drake by prevailing 10-7. The win snapped a 17-game losing streak to the Bulldogs that dated back to 2003 and marked the program’s first triumph in 14 visits to Drake Stadium in Des Moines, Iowa. Keyon Turner (Chicago, Ill. / Marist) forced a turnover for the fourth straight week, Austin Martins (Newman, Calif. / Orestimba [Modesto JC]) accrued 2 ½ sacks and the Valpo defense turned in another fine performance to pave the way to the win.
How It Happened
- Each team was forced to punt on their first two drives of the game. Ben Niesner (Black Diamond, Wash. / Tahoma [Portland State]) ripped off a booming 57 yarder for his first punt of the day and followed with a kick that pinned Drake just outside the 10.
- Early in the second quarter, Valpo went for it on fourth-and-5 from the Drake 39, but the stout Bulldog defense stood tall. The Valpo defense continued its strong showing by forcing punts on Drake’s final two possessions of the half. All four Drake possessions of the opening half resulted in punts.
- The trend continued in the second half, when head coach Landon Fox’s defense forced three-and-outs on each of Drake’s first two possessions. Valpo also had just three plays on each of its first two second-half drives, but then Turner made a big play on defense to spark the Brown & Gold.
- For the fourth consecutive week, Turner was involved in a key takeaway, and for the third straight week the rookie notched an interception. That pick came with 6:13 left in the third quarter of a scoreless game and allowed Valpo to take over at the Drake 35.
- Valpo wasn’t able to move the chains on the ensuing drive, and Fox sent out kicker Brian Bartholomew (Sugar Grove, Ill. / Kaneland) for a 49-yard field goal attempt. His try sailed through the uprights for the first points of the game.
- Drake followed with its best drive of the day to that point by gaining 59 yards on nine plays, but a 29-yard field goal attempt by the Bulldogs was missed and it remained 3-0 Valpo.
- A heavy dose of running back Robert Washington (Huntersville, N.C. / East Gaston [Old Dominion]) on the next Valpo drive helped the guests milk 6:05 off the clock on a 13-play, 80-yard possession. Better yet for Valpo, that drive culminated with the first touchdown of the day by either team as Washington dashed into the end zone from 14 yards out to make it 10-0 with 8:58 left in the fourth quarter.
- A 46-yard pass from Hunter Wendling to Colin Howard set up a 2-yard TD rush by Caden Meis on Drake’s next drive, cutting the Valpo lead to 10-7 with 7:51 to play.
- Niesner continued a big day with a 58-yard punt to the Drake 10-yard line, then the Valpo defense forced another three-and-out with Martins and Jaxon Peifer (Normal, Ill. / Normal Community) combining for a sack for a loss of eight on third-and-1 at the Drake 11. The hosts punted it away with 4:05 remaining.
- Valpo quarterback Chris Duncan (Woodland Hills, Calif. / Woodland Hills-Taft) completed an 11-yard first down pass to Ollie Reese (Franklin, Tenn. / Battle Ground) before Charlie Maxwell (Elkhart, Ind. / Elkhart Christian Academy) moved the chains again with a 7-yard rush, setting up victory formation for the Brown & Gold.
Inside the Game
- Valpo earned just its fourth win against Drake all-time and first in a visit to Des Moines. This snapped a 17-game losing streak in the head-to-head series that dated back to a 51-45 overtime win at Brown Field on Oct. 25, 2003.
- Prior to this victory, Valpo was 0-13 all-time at Drake, and the team has visited Des Moines every other year since its first trip in 1994, the year after the Pioneer Football League’s founding.
- This marks Valpo’s first set of back-to-back victories since beating Butler and Dayton in the final two games of the 2017 campaign.
- Valpo is 2-0 in road games for the first time since 2006 and 2-0 in league road games for the first time since 1986, when head coach Bill Koch’s team recorded wins at Franklin College and at Saint Joseph’s (Ind.) in Heartland Collegiate Conference action.
- The win assures Valpo of at least a .500 record, securing at least the team’s second-best winning percentage over the last 17 seasons.
- Valpo stands at 3-1 through four games for the first time since 2007 and 3-1 through four league outings for the first time since 2003.
- After recovering a fumble in Week 1, Turner has notched interceptions in each of the last three weeks. Over the last three seasons, Turner and Jamari Booker (five, 2019) are the only two Valpo players with three or more interceptions in a single year, and Turner’s have come over the first four games. Entering Saturday’s game, Turner already ranked tied for 19th nationally in interceptions per game and was one of seven freshmen in Division-I FCS with multiple interceptions on the season.
- This marked the first time the Valpo defense held an opponent to seven points or fewer since an 8-7 win over Dayton in the 2017 season finale.
- This marked the fewest points allowed by Valpo in a PFL road game since a 31-7 win at San Diego on Oct. 31, 1998. This ties that game for the fewest points Valpo has allowed in a PFL road game since the league’s inception in 1993.
- Washington’s touchdown was his fifth of the season (four rushing, one receiving). The junior running back enjoyed his third 100-yard rushing game of the year, going for 101 yards on 23 carries. He also had a team-high six receptions for 19 receiving yards.
- Bartholomew’s 49-yard field goal marked his career long and the longest by a Valpo kicker since Dimitrios Latsonas converted from 50 in the final game of the 2018 campaign at Stetson.
- Niesner averaged 47.8 yards per punt on six punts including a long of 58 and three that he sent inside the 20. Three of his six punts went for 50+ yards. The 58-yard punt marked a career long and the longest boot by any Valpo punter since Alex Ng sent one 59 yards on Sept. 10, 2016 at Sacred Heart.
- Evan Annis (Hilliard, Ohio / Hilliard Davidson) topped Valpo with eight tackles, leading the team in that area for the third straight week. He’s accrued six tackles or more in every game this season and eight or more in three straight contests.
- Martins finished with five tackles including 2 ½ sacks, the most by a Valpo player in a single game since John Guilford had 2 ½ on Oct. 17, 2015 vs. Dayton. Martins’ sacks set Drake back 19 yards in Saturday’s victory.
- Valpo outdid Drake (1-2) in rushing yards 166-88. The Valpo defense held Drake to just 2-of-11 on third down.
Thoughts from Head Coach Landon Fox
On making program history with Valpo’s first win at Drake: “I’m so happy for the athletic department, the University and especially our football team. Our players have worked so hard, and we demand their best each and every day. That’s not easy to do. They do a great job coming out every day and giving a full effort. We played hard for four quarters and found a way to win.”
Thoughts on the defense: “There were some times where our defense bent but didn’t break. We were able to get a big stop in the red zone, which we talk about quite a bit. We just stayed the course. The guys did a good job with the game plan and executing at a high level for a long period of time. I’m extremely pleased with the way we executed.”
On Keyon Turner “He has a great feel for the game. He understands the schematics of what we’re trying to do. He has a feel for what the offense is trying to do against us, and that’s paid off for him all year. Four turnovers in four games – he’s done an outstanding job.”
On Bartholomew’s 49-yard FG: “The decision to kick was partly based on the way the game was going. At that point, I really felt we could win 3-0. We’ve pushed Bart in practice back to 60; he isn’t quite making on a consistent basis from that distance, but he certainly has the leg strength. I’m very comfortable with him kicking from far distances. Niesner is the holder for him, and they do a great job of preparing every day in practice.”
On Niesner’s Punts: “He’s continuing to do a great job. We ask a lot of him in terms of the different kinds of punts that we use, and he was able to flip the field throughout the day. We did a much better job in the ‘hidden yardage’ battle than we did the first time against Drake, and a big part of that was Ben.”
On Austin Martins: “We were able to get some pressure throughout the day, and Austin executed the defense that was called. The guys understood the game plan, and that helped them in terms of being able to make plays. Austin made some big plays for us, especially the sack late in the game.”
Valpo (3-1) will attempt to secure a winning season and notch its third straight victory next Saturday at Morehead State. The game will air on ESPN+ beginning at 11 a.m. CT in Morehead, Ky. Links to live video, audio and stats are available on ValpoAthletics.com.