The Valparaiso University football team got off to a stellar start and strong defensive play helped the Beacons cling to the lead for much of the game, but San Diego scored a go-ahead touchdown with 1:15 remaining to edge Valpo 21-14 on a sunny Saturday at Torero Stadium. All three of Valpo’s setbacks in Pioneer Football League play have come by seven points or fewer. Valpo tied a PFL record with three blocked kicks in a single game.
How It Happened
- A commendable day for Valpo’s kick-blocking unit began from the outset, as San Diego received the opening kickoff and had its first drive result in a blocked punt by Diego Del Castillo (Murrieta, Calif. / Rancho Verde).
- The blocked punt helped the Beacons start their opening possession at midfield, and the drive saw Valpo move the ball favorably. Quarterback Ben Nimz had a pair of rushes totaling 18 yards, then Robert Washington (Huntersville, N.C. / East Gaston [Old Dominion]) zipped through the line and into the open field for a 28-yard touchdown on a 4th-and-1 play.
- San Diego moved the ball to the Valpo 24 on the following drive, but Jamauri Jackson made a key play immediately after entering the game to replace an injured player. After notching a pick six in last week’s win vs. Dayton, he turned the trick again with an 83-yard interception return for a touchdown to put Valpo ahead 14-0 with 6:33 left in the first.
- The Toreros got on the board on a 15-yard TD pass from Mason Randall to Emilio Martinez early in the second quarter. They moved a step closer on Brandon Eickert’s 31-yard field goal with 7:45 remaining in the half that cut the lead to four. The two teams exchanged a series of punts before the Toreros moved it 32 yards on nine plays to set up a 33-yard field goal by Eickert with 38 seconds left in the half. Although the Toreros inched to within a point, the Valpo defense limited the damage with the two stops that forced the Toreros into field-goal tries.
- Valpo tried a fake punt on the opening drive of the second half, but turned it over on downs when the pass fell incomplete.
- The kick block of the Beacons was at it again on San Diego’s first second-half drive. Brett Bittner (Chicago, Ill. / St. Laurence) recorded his third blocked punt of the season.
- The next San Diego drive also resulted in a blocked kick, Valpo’s third of the day. This one came courtesy of Nathan Orlandini (Columbus, Ohio / Upper Arlington), who turned away a 47-yard field goal try to keep Valpo in front 14-13.
- The defense continued a stellar effort with 5:09 left in the third when a strip sack by Austin Martins (Newman, Calif. / Orestimba [Modesto JC]) set up an Orlandini fumble recovery at the San Diego 27.
- The Beacons couldn’t cash in on the strong field position, as the Toreros came up with a blocked kick of their own, turning away a 42-yard field goal try to keep the Valpo lead at one.
- San Diego had a chance to gain the lead with 10:41 left in the fourth on a 37-yard field goal attempt, but missed it wide right.
- A 62-yard boot by punter Ben Niesner (Black Diamond, Wash. / Tahoma [Portland State]) pinned San Diego on its own 22 with 8:48 to play, then a sack by Martins started the drive. The Beacons eventually forced a punt and regained possession at midfield with 6:35 remaining. On 4th-and-4 from the San Diego 28, Nimz completed a pass to Connor Hebbeler (Franklin Lakes, N.J. / Bergen Catholic [Wake Forest]), but USD made the stop two yards shy of the sticks and took over on downs with 3:42 left.
- The ensuing San Diego drive featured a key 37-yard reception by Derek Kline and ended with a 15-yard TD run by Randall to give the hosts their first lead of the game. A successful 2-point try made it 21-14 with just over a minute remaining. That stood as the final score.
Inside the Game
- Dating back to last season, Valpo’s last four PFL losses have come by seven points or fewer. The team’s last nine PFL losses have been close games, decided by 12 points or fewer.
- Valpo tied the Pioneer Football League record for blocked kicks in a single game with three. The most recent PFL squad to do so was Morehead State vs. San Diego in 2018.
- After the three blocked kicks on Saturday, Valpo now holds sole possession of the FCS lead with seven blocked kicks this season. Entering play on Saturday, no other FCS team in the nation had more than five. In fact, Valpo is the only team in all of college football – FBS or FCS – that has blocked seven kicks this season.
- Valpo has tied the 2002 season for the second-most blocked kicks in a single season in program history. The 1991 team holds the program record with 14.
- Bittner became just the third player in the nation with three or more blocked kicks this season, joining Delaware State’s Kevin Deshields and Southern Illinois’ Anthony Knighton.
- Niesner averaged 48.7 yards per punt over seven attempts including a long of 63. The 63 yarder tied for the second-longest of his career behind only a 72-yard rocket against San Diego last season.
- Before last week, Valpo hadn’t had an interception return for a touchdown in any game since Oct. 20, 2018 (Drew Snouffer), but now the same player has turned the trick in consecutive weeks with Jackson notching his second pick six of the year. His 83 yarder on Saturday is the 10th-longest in the FCS nation this season, pending other stats across FCS on Saturday.
- Martins’ forced fumble was his first of the season and he also owns a pair of fumble recoveries. His force was his second in a Valpo uniform. Orlandini came up with his second career fumble recovery, both this season.
- Martins had 4.5 tackles for loss on Saturday, tied for the seventh-most in the FCS nation this season. He is one of 13 players nationally with 4.5 or more TFL in a single game this season. Two of those tackles were sacks.
- Martins finished with a career-high 12 tackles, while Trey Psota (Bay Village, Ohio / Bay) accrued 11 tackles, which also represented his career watermark. Anthony Sciaronni (Columbus, Ohio / St. Francis DeSales [Alderson Broaddus at Findlay]) also had a big day, boasting nine stops.
- The 21 points were the fewest Valpo has allowed in its last nine trips to San Diego. It marked Valpo’s best defensive performance as far as points permitted in a game at San Diego since Oct. 28, 2000, a 32-10 victory.
Valpo (2-6, 2-3 PFL) will return to the gridiron next week to host Presbyterian on Saturday, Nov. 6 at 1 p.m. CT at Brown Field. Ticket information can be found on valpoathletics.com/tickets. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3 as well as the Valpo Sports Network (95.1 FM Valparaiso, ValpoAthletics.com and the TuneIn Radio app).