The Valparaiso University football program faced adversity time and time again on Saturday afternoon at Jayne Stadium in Morehead, Ky., but each time the team had a response. In many cases, that response was Aaron Dawson (Westbury, N.Y. / W.T. Clarke / Milford Prep [Central Connecticut]), who ran for 241 yards as part of 574 yards of total offense in a stressful yet thrilling 40-35 road win at Morehead State. The victory kept Valpo in the Pioneer Football League title mix and snapped a seven-game road losing streak in the head-to-head series with the Eagles that dated back to 2006.
How It Happened
- The game got off to an unfavorable start for the guests as Morehead State received the opening kickoff and jumped ahead 7-0 with an 11-play, 69-yard drive. The Eagles successfully recovered an onside kick following the touchdown, and had an opportunity to go up two scores before the Valpo offense ever touched the ball.
- The Valpo defense came up with a key stop, as Colin Graves (Seattle, Wash. / Bishop Blanchet) made consecutive pass breakups, the second of which caused a turnover on downs at the Valpo 36.
- The offense touched the ball for the first time in the game and wasted no time as Michael Appel Jr. (Springboro, Ohio / Springboro) hit Braden Contreras (Hillsdale, Ill. / Hinsdale Central) for a 16-yard strike on the first play from scrimmage. Two plays later, Appel connected with an open Contreras again, this time for a 37-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at seven with 6:40 left in the first.
- The defense forced a quick three-and-out, then the offense went to work again. Contreras’ monster quarter continued with a 21-yard grab, then his biggest catch yet came on fourth-and-11 from the Morehead State 29 and resulted in a go-ahead touchdown with 30 seconds left in the opening quarter to make it 14-7.
- Fourth down remained the money down for the Brown & Gold on the ensuing Morehead State possession. The Eagles were stopped on fourth down for the second time in the game, this time throwing an incomplete pass on fourth-and-3 from the Valpo four-yard line.
- After a Valpo three-and-out, Morehead State recorded its eighth blocked kick and sixth blocked punt of the season – both numbers that lead the FCS nation – and the blocked punt was recovered in the end zone for a game-tying touchdown to make it 14-14 with 9:58 left in the second quarter.
- Fourth down yet again proved crucial on the next Valpo series. On fourth-and-3 from the Morehead State 20, Mason Kaplan (Peachtree Corners, Ga. / Norcross) ran for 10 yards to move the chains. Valpo went for it again on fourth-and-goal from the one, and Appel took the snap under center before the Beacons pushed the pile for a 1-yard TD run to make it 21-14 with 4:09 to go in the second quarter. That drive also featured a 43-yard Appel completion to Solomon Davis (Brighton, Tenn. / Brighton).
- A 63-yard rush set up first-and-goal for Morehead State on the ensuing drive, and the Eagles eventually scored on a game-tying, nine-yard TD pass. That would create a 21-21 deadlock that stood going into the intermission.
- Valpo started the second half with the ball and immediately found paydirt as Dawson broke off a 45-yard TD run to make it 28-21 Valpo with 12:06 left in the third.
- Morehead State missed a 38-yard field goal to keep the Valpo lead at seven with 9:23 left in the third. However, the lead disappeared on the second play of Valpo’s next drive as the Eagles came up with a pick six to tie the game at 28 with 9:06 to go in the third.
- With the top two quarterbacks on the Valpo depth chart both sidelined by injuries that occurred during the game, third-team signal caller Jeffrey Jackson (San Diego, Calif. / Bishop’s [San Diego]) stepped in on the next Valpo drive. The Beacons were stopped on fourth-and-one from the Morehead State 33, but then the defense got a quick stop and forced a punt by the hosts.
- Jackson connected with Dom Grguric (Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio / Walsh Jesuit) for a 44-yard pass that helped set up an eventual 26-yard field goal by Brian Bartholomew (Sugar Grove, Ill. / Kaneland) to make it 31-28 with 14:14 left in the fourth.
- Morehead State responded with a 73-yard touchdown pass to jump back ahead 35-31.
- Bartholomew, a First Team All-PFL kicker each of the last two years, continued his redemption performance after a rare rough week last week. He hit a 48-yard field goal to slim the lead to one with 9:52 left in the fourth.
- After Morehead State went three-and-out, a heavy dose of Dawson helped Valpo get back in front. His 28-yard run made it 40-35 Valpo with 5:29 to play.
- Valpo forced a turnover on downs at near midfield with 1:54 to go as the defense came up with a huge stop. The Beacons got it back, but faced fourth-and-4 at the Morehead State 46 with one minute on the clock. The Valpo coaching staff dipped into its bag of tricks and called for a fake punt, but Evan Matthes (Reston, Va. / South Lakes [West Virginia]) was spotted a yard shy of the first down, opening the door for the Eagles with 53 seconds to go.
- Morehead State drove the ball to the Valpo 20 in the closing seconds, but fifth-year senior captain Kohlton Sherman (Millington, Mich. / Millington) stepped up with back-to-back big plays, first delivering a pass breakup and then making an interception in the end zone with all zeros on the clock.
Inside the Game
- Dawson ran for 241 yards including 226 in the second half. He delivered the highest rushing output by a Valpo player since Jake Hutson had 248 on Nov. 2, 2012 at Campbell. The program record for rushing yards in a game is 253 by Jeff Horton on Sept. 3, 2005 at Wisconsin Lutheran.
- Dawson delivered the seventh-highest single-game rushing output in the FCS nation this season and highest by a PFL player.
- This was Dawson’s third straight game with 150 or more rushing yards. He now owns three of the top four single-game rushing outputs by a PFL player this season.
- For the season, Dawson is up to 824 rushing yards. He is on the verge of cracking the top five in program history with four games remaining as Brandon Hall is fifth with 855 in 2014. Jeff Horton rushed for 1,358 yards in 2005 to set the program record.
- Dawson had 31 rushing attempts, the most by a Valpo player since Robert Washington had 33 in last year’s season finale, also against Morehead State.
- Valpo outgained Morehead State 574-447 in terms of total offense. This was Valpo’s highest offensive output since Oct. 28, 2017, 597 yards, also against Morehead State. This was among the most productive offensive games in the history of Valpo football and not far behind the single-game record for total offense of 613 set against Alma in 1985.
- Valpo held the upper hand in rushing yards 274-121, while the Eagles out-passed the Beacons 326-300. This was Valpo’s highest single-game team rushing output since 298 on Nov. 6, 2021 vs. Presbyterian.
- This represented Valpo’s highest single-game passing output since 304 yards on Nov. 9, 2019, also against Morehead State. Saturday was the team’s second-highest single-game passing output of the Landon Fox Era.
- Despite missing most of the second half with an injury, Appel passed for 245 yards on 13-of-19 through the air including two scores. This was the highest single-game passing output by a Valpo individual since Nov. 16, 2019, when Chris Duncan had 264 passing yards at Butler.
- Valpo’s first two 100-yard receiving efforts of the season both came on Saturday. Contreras finished with five catches for 116 yards, while Davis had four for 109. Davis set a career high for receiving yards, while Contreras was two yards shy of his high set last season against Dayton.
- Contreras had a pair of TD receptions, joining Barret Labus (Sept. 24 vs. San Diego) as Valpo players who have multiple in a single game this year.
- Bartholomew averaged 59.3 yards per kick on his eight kickoffs including a pair of touchbacks. He went a perfect 4-for-4 on extra points and 2-for-2 on field goals including a 48 yarder that represented his second-longest make of the season.
- Sherman’s interception was the third of his career and his first since the Spring 2021 season.
- The team’s leading tacklers were Sam Hafner (Green Bay, Wis. / De Pere) and Graves with seven stops apiece.
- Dawson ran for two touchdowns and is up to six rushing TDs this season. Appel’s rushing TD was the first of his career. The team has now rushed for 11 scores this season.
- In addition to snapping the seven-game road losing streak to Morehead State by earning the program’s first win in Morehead, Ky. since 2006, Valpo garnered just its third ever road win over the Eagles. Valpo had dropped 14 of the 15 matchups between the two teams before Saturday’s triumph.
- The victory helped Valpo improve to 3-1 in league play for the second time in the last three years. Prior to the Spring 2021 campaign, Valpo hadn’t started a league slate with a 3-1 mark since 2003.
- Valpo has won the first two PFL road games of the season for the second time in the last three years after winning at Butler and at Drake during the Spring 2021 slate. Prior to that, Valpo had never started 2-0 in PFL road games and hadn’t won the first two league road games in any conference since Heartland Collegiate Conference wins at Franklin College and at Saint Joseph’s (Ind.) back in 1986.
- The Beacons hold the program’s best record through seven games since 2007.
Thoughts from Head Coach Landon Fox
On the Second-Half Rushing Attack: “Aaron Dawson is such a good player; he has the ability to hit the hole, and when he hits it, he hits it fast. Give credit to our offensive line for creating those holes, and when he gets downhill, he’s tough to tackle.”
On the First Win at Morehead State since 2006: “In the moment, you don’t really think about those things, because you’re just trying to win a football game, but obviously afterward it feels good to be able to come down here and win in a place that we haven’t won in a long time. It was stated, I’m not going to hide from the fact that that was something we mentioned to the team at the beginning of the week.”
On overcoming adversity: “We had to overcome a lot of adversity, some of which was self-created in terms of the blocked punt for a touchdown and interception for a touchdown. That’s on us, but I’m proud of our ability to overcome those things. We had two quarterbacks go down and our third quarterback came in and did the job. That was the talk in the locker room after the game. We’re building a program where one or two guys can go down, and we still have the ability to win the game. That next-man-up mentality makes me, our staff and our players excited.”
On Appel’s First Half: “Mikey can throw it, and he’s a big guy back there so he can see the field really well. I’d like to say that would have continued if he didn’t get hurt. He just had a misread on the interception, and we haven’t done that very much this year, and those things will happen every once in a while. It was unfortunate that he got injured, because we know he would have come back from that and finished off a good day.”
Valpo (4-3, 3-1 PFL) will attempt to garner a second straight road victory with next week’s visit to Dayton. The game will kick off at noon Central Time.