Pioneer Football League action got off to a majestic start for the Valparaiso University football team on Saturday afternoon at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.
On fourth-and-10 from the Drake 30 with 1:05 remaining in the fourth quarter and Valpo down 21-17, Jordan Bingham (Indianapolis, Ind. / North Central) made a juggling, unlikely catch in the end zone to give the Beacons a 24-21 lead that would stand as the game’s final score. The Bingham heroic play marked the second desperation pass completed by redshirt junior quarterback Ben Nimz (Waukesha, Wis. / Catholic Memorial) on the game’s final drive as moments earlier he connected on a 42-yard heave to Ollie Reese (Franklin, Tenn. / Battle Ground) on 4th-and-17 from the Valpo 28.
Drake attempted a 42-yard field goal with three seconds on the clock in an effort to send the game to overtime, but Austin Martins (Newman, Calif. / Orestimba [Modesto JC]) blocked the try to ignite a celebratory scene on the Valpo sideline.
How It Happened
- Valpo played from behind early as the team’s first offensive snap resulted in an interception, setting up the Bulldogs for a short field. They capitalized with a Brandon Langdok 8-yard TD rush to take a 7-0 lead.
- The Beacons bounced back on their second offensive possession, compiling an 11-play, 84-yard drive that ended with a Robert Washington (Huntersville, N.C. / East Gaston [Old Dominion]) 10-yard TD rush. The drive was highlighted by a 30-yard reception by Washington and a 17-yard catch by Reese from quarterback Teryn Berry (Redmond, Wash. / Redmond [Weber State]).
- Following a missed 30-yard field goal try by the Bulldogs, Valpo used a quick strike to take the lead. In juxtaposition to the team’s elongated scoring drive on the previous possession, Valpo needed only one play as Washington broke free for an 80-yard score.
- Drake’s second touchdown also came after a short field. A fumble recovery helped the Bulldogs start at the Valpo 21 before an 18-yard pass from Luke Bailey to Matt Hartlieb tied the game at 14 with 3:37 left in the first half. The score remained even going into halftime.
- The Valpo defense forced a quick three-and-out on the first drive of the second half, setting up a go-ahead scoring drive for the Beacons. Kicker Brian Bartholomew (Sugar Grove, Ill. / Kaneland) crushed one through the center of the uprights from 39 yards out to make it 17-14 Valpo.
- The Valpo defense thrived throughout the third quarter, forcing three-and-outs on the first three Drake drives of the second half. However, the Bulldogs capped a seven-play, 85-yard march with a 49-yard Bailey pass to Colin Howard to go ahead 21-17 with 12:10 left in the fourth.
- Ben Niesner (Black Diamond, Wash. / Tahoma [Portland State]) delivered a booming 56-yard punt that was downed at the Drake 4-yard line, then his 48 yarder just narrowly crossed the goal line for a touchback following the next Valpo drive. Both of those punts led to poor field position for the Bulldogs, who continued to be held in check by a Valpo defense that forced two more three-and-outs.
- Valpo threw an interception with 4:07 remaining, but once again the defense responded to give the offense another chance. The Bulldogs picked up just one first down on the ensuing drive and eventually punted it into the end zone for a touchback.
- That led to Nimz’s first appearance of the game, as he came off the bench to orchestrate the aforementioned nine-play, 80-yard scoring drive featuring the two fourth-down conversions. He nearly found Braden Contreras (Hillsdale, Ill. / Hinsdale Central) for the game-winning score prior to the completion to Bingham, but Drake’s Alex Rogers made a nice play to break up the pass.
- The hosts converted a fourth down of their own on the ensuing drive to keep hope alive, but the Valpo defense forced the 42-yard field goal try and the special teams unit delivered a big play with Martins coming up with the block and Austin Chilton (Windermere, Fla. / West Orange) eventually recovering the football with all zeros on the clock.
Inside the Game
- Prior to the 10-7 win at Drake on April 3, 2021, Valpo had lost 17 straight head-to-head meetings with the Bulldogs and was 0-14 all-time at Drake. Now, Valpo has won back-to-back games in the head-to-head series and earned its first two wins in Des Moines in the same calendar year. This marks the first time Valpo has ever recorded back-to-back wins over Drake.
- Valpo has won PFL openers in consecutive years after starting last spring with a win at Butler. The Beacons have started the conference docket with a victory in consecutive years for the first time since 2005 and 2006.
- Head coach Landon Fox’s team managed to overcome a 5-0 turnover deficit (two lost fumbles, three interceptions) to still win the game.
- Washington accrued 143 rushing yards on 17 carries, averaging 8.4 yards per carry. The rushing total represented a season high and marked his second straight game over 100 yards. He now owns six 100-yard rushing performances in his first 10 games in a Valpo uniform. There have been 11 occasions over the last five years where a Valpo player eclipsed 100 rushing yards, and Washington has accounted for six of them.
- Washington’s 143 yards on Saturday tied for the 15th highest single-game rushing output in Division-I FCS this season and represents the second-highest by a PFL player.
- Washington’s 80-yard run was Valpo’s longest play on the ground since Jarrett Morgan’s 86-yard pickup on Sept. 16, 2017 at Trinity International. It was Valpo’s longest rush against a Division-I opponent since at least 2001. It was just shy of the program record for longest scoring run from scrimmage, which is 86 yards by Joe Pahr on Oct. 8, 1949 vs. Saint Joseph’s.
- Washington is tied with Cole Mueller of Illinois State for the second-longest rushing play in the nation this season. Darran Butts of Hampton had an 85-yard run for the only one longer than Washington’s in Division-I FCS so far this fall.
- Martins’ blocked field goal was Valpo’s first since Trent Miller on April 10, 2021 at Morehead State. It marked the second straight game Valpo has blocked a kick after a blocked punt last week. Valpo has also blocked kicks in three consecutive PFL games dating back to last season.
- Washington also had 56 receiving yards on a team-high eight catches to finish with 199 all-purpose yards. Only nine players in the FCS nation have more than 200 all-purpose yards in a single game this season. Washington became the first Valpo player with eight or more receptions in a game since Reese on March 20, 2021 vs. Drake.
- Nimz has two career touchdown passes, and both have accounted for go-ahead scores in the final 1:05 of a game. His 30-yard TD toss to Bingham with 1:05 to go on Saturday followed his go-ahead connection with Braden Contreras in the closing seconds of the Spring 2021 finale, an upset victory over San Diego.
- Washington’s two touchdowns upped his career total to seven rushing and eight total TDs.
- Bingham’s TD catch was the first of his career.
- Reese had a team-high 59 receiving yards on two grabs, including the crucial, late-game 42 yarder.
- Kohlton Sherman (Millington, Mich. / Millington) boasted a team-high nine tackles including seven solos and one tackle for loss. Nathan Orlandini (Columbus, Ohio / Upper Arlington) and Gavin Twigg (Acworth, Ga. / Allatoona) contributed seven tackles apiece.
- The Valpo defense forced 22 third downs as the Bulldogs went 9-of-22. Valpo outrushed Drake 155-67 and outgained the Bulldogs overall 379-350.
- Dating back to last season, this marked Valpo’s fifth straight PFL game decided by four points or fewer, with Valpo moving to 3-1 in those contests. The Beacons are 3-0 in games decided by three or points or fewer over the last two seasons after going 0-4 in games decided by six points or fewer in 2019.
- With his 249 punting yards on Saturday, Niesner moved past the 7,000-yard milestone for his collegiate career, including his time at both Valpo and Portland State. He is ninth among active FCS players in career punting yards.
- Bartholomew went 3-for-3 on extra points and 1-for-1 on field goals for a perfect day of place kicking. He is now 11-of-13 on field-goal tries and 17-for-17 on PATs in his Valpo career.
Thoughts From Head Coach Landon Fox
“It feels amazing to win at Drake twice in a row after the program had never won here before. I told the players after the game that this win says something about our team. This game has been circled on Drake’s calendar since we played in the spring, so we had to match that intensity. In the bigger picture in terms of this year, we’re just 1-0 in the league. We like the way that sounds, but we’ve got a long way to go, and it starts with Game 2 against Marist next week.”
“On the first long catch, I had a pretty good idea that Ollie Reese had a chance. Ben threw it up there, and Ollie played it well in the air and I knew he had a really good opportunity. I didn’t feel quite as strongly about the Bingham one when it was in the air, but he was able to tip it up to himself and make a great play. Those few plays helped us overcome some mistakes that we have to get cleaned up in a hurry.”
“Ben was well prepared when his number was called. That scenario is his strength because he has a very good arm and the ability to push the ball down the field. He gave our guys a chance, and that was the key. The throw to Contreras that was knocked away was a really nice ball as well. I give him credit, and you feel good for guys like that who are sitting there waiting and then take advantage of the opportunity.”
“We were solid on defense for the most part. The guys were prepared and knew what was coming. We weren’t perfect, but we were able to hold them to 21 points despite five extra possessions from turnovers. Our defense did a nice job.”
“I’m not sure if there’s ever been a team to win despite being minus five in turnover margin. You typically can’t do that, but to our credit we continued to play hard and remained persistent in what we’re trying to do and we were able to come up with some plays to win at the end of the game.”
Valpo (1-3, 1-0) will attempt to improve to 2-0 in PFL play next Saturday, Oct. 2 as Marist comes to town for a Homecoming matchup that kicks off at noon at Brown Field. Ticket information can be found at valpoathletics.com/tickets, and those who cannot attend can watch on ESPN3.