The Valparaiso University football team competed in another tightly-contested, one-score game on Saturday, as host St. Thomas withstood a pair of late Valpo takeaways to hold on for a 20-13 victory at O’Shaughnessy Stadium in Saint Paul, Minn. The Beacons outscored the Tommies 10-0 in the final quarter, but couldn’t fully overcome a 17-point deficit.
How It Happened
- The game was a defensive battle through the first quarter. St. Thomas had a chance to put points on the board with 8:05 left in the opening stanza, but missed a 32-yard field goal try that hooked wide left.
- Valpo punted on its first two drives, but got on the board with 1:13 remaining in the opening quarter as Brian Bartholomew (Sugar Grove, Ill. / Kaneland) connected on a 32-yard field goal try.
- It remained 3-0 until St. Thomas used an interception to set up a short field for a three-play, 32-yard touchdown drive. The Tommies were also aided by a pair of Valpo penalties that helped set up a six-yard TD run by Tom Loeffler that put the hosts ahead 7-3 with 8:33 left in the first half.
- Valpo moved the ball on the ensuing possession, including a 27-yard run by Gabe Lawson (Cranberry Township, Pa. / Seneca Valley). However, the drive resulted in a 42-yard missed field goal that kept it 7-3 in favor of St. Thomas.
- Valpo was pinned back at its own 12-yard line and facing fourth-and-12 in the final minute of the first half. Punter Ben Niesner (Black Diamond, Wash. / Tahoma [Portland State]) helped make sure the Tommies wouldn’t have a chance for further first-half damage by booting a 63-yard punt to the St. Thomas 25, and the score remained 7-3 at halftime.
- Valpo found itself trailing by four at the break, but statistically had the better of the play in the first half. The Beacons outgained the Tommies 147-77 and held St. Thomas to 27 first-half rushing yards.
- The Tommies received the second-half kickoff and put together a methodical, 13-play, 78-yard drive that resulted in a four-yard TD run by QB Cade Sexauer. That extended the hosts’ lead to 14-3 with 9:11 left in the third.
- St. Thomas crafted another long scoring drive on its next possession, going 77 yards on 10 plays as Tom Loeffler ran it in from two yards out to make it 20-3. The drive was highlighted by a 33-yard reception by Wesley Juszczak on a trick play on fourth-and-six from the Valpo 35. Following the TD, St. Thomas went for two and the try failed.
- With Valpo in need of a takeaway, the defense rose to the occasion. Austin Chilton (Windermere, Fla. / West Orange) snagged an interception at the St. Thomas 37 and set up the offense with good field position. That drive resulted in a 31-yard field goal by Bartholomew, as Valpo took the points on fourth-and-3 from the St. Thomas 14. That made it a two-score game at 20-6.
- The next St. Thomas drive resulted in another turnover. This time Nick Price (Merrillville, Ind. / Merrillville) forced a fumble and Trent Miller (Gibsonia, Pa. / Pine-Richland) came up with the recovery to set up the Valpo offense at the St. Thomas 35.
- Quarterback Ben Nimz (Waukesha, Wis. / Catholic Memorial) needed just one play to convert that opportunity into points, as he connected with an open Braden Contreras (Hillsdale, Ill. / Hinsdale Central) for a 35-yard TD to make it 20-13.
- The Valpo defense forced a punt following a three-and-out. The ensuing Valpo drive started with 4:58 remaining, but resulted in an interception on a play where the Beacons initially thought they had a free play but there turned out to be no offsides penalty.
- St. Thomas took over and was able to run off the remaining 4:47 to garner the seven-point win, their 29th consecutive home victory.
Inside the Game
- The theme of close games continued, as this marked Valpo’s 14th straight league game decided by 12 points or fewer. During that stretch, 12 of the 14 games have been dictated by 10 points or fewer.
- Contreras made his first TD catch of the season and the second of his career. His previous scoring reception came on the game-winning play of the Spring 2021 season finale vs. San Diego.
- Chilton made his second interception of the season and has accounted for both Valpo picks this year. Miller’s fumble recovery was the first of his career, while Price was credited with his first career forced fumble.
- Niesner averaged 53.2 yards per punt on six attempts, including the aforementioned long of 63. The 63-yard punt was the second longest of Niesner’s career behind his 72-yard rocket on April 17, 2021 vs. San Diego.
- Jaxon Peifer (Normal, Ill. / Normal Community) totaled 14 tackles including eight solos and one tackle for loss to lead the way. His 14 stops matched a career high from this season’s Week 1 game at Indiana Wesleyan. Kohlton Sherman (Millington, Mich. / Millington) added nine tackles for the Beacons.
- Nimz completed 17 passes for 177 yards, while Washington had a team-high five receptions for 32 yards. Valpo outdid the Tommies (3-1, 2-1) through the air 177-131.
- Valpo’s biggest bugaboo was the penalties, as the guests were flagged 14 times for 117 yards.
Valpo (1-5, 1-2) will enjoy a bye week before returning to action on Saturday, Oct. 23 at noon at Brown Field.