The Valparaiso University football program set the tone early, jumping out to a 24-3 lead by halftime en route to a 45-24 road victory at Marist on Saturday afternoon at Tenney Stadium in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. The Beacons picked up the program’s first ever win at Marist, beating the Red Foxes for just the second time in 11 all-time matchups. Aaron Dawson (Westbury, N.Y. / W.T. Clarke / Milford Prep [Central Connecticut]) eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season as part of a 199-yard day in his home state, helping Valpo put itself in position to clinch a winning season with a win next week. Kohlton Sherman (Millington, Mich. / Millington) set a program record for longest interception return with a 95-yard pick six.
How It Happened
- The Valpo defense stood tall in the red zone on the first possession of the game, forcing a 32-yard field goal attempt. Marist had just its second missed field goal of the season as the game remained scoreless.
- The Red Foxes once again couldn’t capitalize on a red-zone chance during their second possession. A key sack by Kohlton Sherman (Millington, Mich. / Millington) on third-and-goal forced a chip shot field goal try that was missed from 28 yards out, keeping the game scoreless with 4:57 left in the first.
- On the first play of the ensuing Valpo possession, Michael Appel Jr. (Springboro, Ohio / Springboro) delivered a strike to Solomon Davis (Brighton, Tenn. / Brighton) for a 40-yard gain. After that, the drive featured a heavy dose of Dawson, who eventually took a direct snap and bulldozed into the end zone from a yard out for the game’s first points, making it 7-0 with 44 seconds left in the first.
- Marist went three-and-out on three deflected passes, but a muffed punt helped the Red Foxes take back over at the Valpo 14. The defense once again put together a red-zone stand, holding the Red Foxes to a 28-yard field goal attempt that was converted to make it 7-3.
- Valpo covered 53 yards on nine plays on its next possession, which started with a 21-yard catch by Evan Jernegan (Altadena, Calif. / St. Francis). The guests were stopped on third-and-goal from the two, and decided to take the points as Brian Bartholomew (Sugar Grove, Ill. / Kaneland) drilled a 19-yard field goal through the uprights to make it 10-3 with 7:51 left in the second quarter.
- Valpo forced another quick punt, then compiled a scoring drive highlighted by a 49-yard grab by Braden Contreras (Hillsdale, Ill. / Hinsdale Central). That drive culminated with a 13-yard TD snag by Jernegan to make it 17-3 with 4:11 left in the second.
- Marist moved the ball into Valpo territory, but then the Beacon defense forced a turnover as Max Franco (La Habra, Calif. / La Habra) intercepted a pass and returned it 34 yards to the Marist 35. That pick led to points as the drive finished with a 6-yard TD run by Appel to up the score to 24-3 at the game’s midway mark.
- The first scoring of the second half came on a 13-play, 82-yard Marist drive that finished with a 13-yard quarterback run to make it 24-10. Valpo responded with a seven-play, 72-yard drive of its own that finished with a 23-yard TD pass from Appel to Dawson.
- Early in the fourth quarter, another Marist red-zone chance came up empty, this time thanks to a Valpo takeaway. Sherman made an interception at the Valpo 5-yard line and took it to the house, a 95-yard pick six to build the lead to 38-10 with 11:07 to play.
- Marist responded with a 64-yard TD pass, but then Dawson broke off a 62-yard TD run to make it 45-17 at the 10:08 mark. Marist put together a 14-play, 75-yard drive to cap the game’s scoring at 45-24.
Inside the Game
- Dawson accumulated 199 rushing yards on 27 carries and two rushing scores to go along with two catches for 36 yards and a touchdown. He not only became the fourth player in program history to surpass 1,000 rushing yards in a season, but he climbed all the way to second on the program’s single-season rushing list.
- Dawson is at 1,154 rushing yards, surpassing Robert Washington’s total of 1,105 from last season that ranked second in single-season program history. Dawson needs 204 yards in next week’s season finale to match Jeff Horton’s 2005 single-season program rushing record of 1,358.
- Saturday marked Dawson’s fifth game with 100 or more rushing yards this season.
- Appel went 9-of-14 for 180 yards and threw for a pair of TDs, while Jernegan was the leading receiver with three catches for 51 yards.
- Sherman has made an interception in four straight games, upping his career total to six. This marked the first touchdown of his career in his final collegiate road game as a fifth-year senior captain.
- Sherman’s 95-yard interception return shattered a program record of 94 set by Mark Kaiser on Oct. 14, 2000 vs. Butler. It was the fourth longest interception return in the FCS nation this season.
- This marked Valpo’s first-ever win in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. as the Beacons had dropped their previous four trips. This was the program’s second all-time victory against the Red Foxes (2-10), joining a 2017 game at Brown Field.
- Valpo has won four PFL games in the same season for the third straight year and just the fourth time ever. Prior to the Spring 2021 season, Valpo had won four league games in a season just once since 1968, with the one instance coming in 2017.
- Valpo has clinched at least a .500 record in PFL play for the third consecutive season. This is the program’s first such stretch since 1998-2000. Prior to that, Valpo had not had a league record of .500 or better in three straight years since doing so in four straight seasons from 1961-1964.
- Valpo has won three PFL road games in the same season for the first time ever and won three league road games in the same season for the first time since 1962.
- Franco’s interception was the first of his collegiate career.
- Bartholomew was 6-for-6 on extra points in addition to converting his only field goal try. He has eight made field goals this season and 27 in his collegiate career.
- Valpo had nine tackles for loss and three sacks including a strip sack to go along with the two interceptions.
- After playing sparingly prior to last week, Jake Birmingham (River Forest, Ill. / Oak Park and River Forest) had his second straight 11-tackle output. The redshirt freshman linebacker had five solos and was the outright team leader in the tackle department. Colin Graves (Seattle, Wash. / Bishop Blanchet) added eight and Tyler Days (Syracuse, N.Y. / Cicero-North Syracuse [Boston College]) had seven.
- Valpo contained Marist to 36 rushing yards on 24 attempts. Valpo boasted 280 yards on the ground. The Red Foxes had minus-6 rushing yards in the first half.
- The Beacons had just one penalty for nine yards (and one other penalty that was declined).
- Valpo accrued 460 yards of total offense, the team’s third game this season eclipsing 400 yards.
- The Beacons enjoyed a 21-point margin of victory against a team that entered the contest at 4-3 in league play. This was Valpo’s most lopsided win of the season and the second most-lopsided triumph of the Landon Fox Era, behind last year’s 47-3 victory at Butler.
- Valpo was a perfect 4-for-4 on red-zone chances, while Marist was 3-for-6.
Thoughts From Head Coach Landon Fox
“I want to thank our players for their preparation throughout the week. We had an outstanding week of practice, and that says a lot coming off two tough losses. We showed an ability to bounce back and be where our feet are and concentrate on what we need to do to be successful. We were able to force a couple stops there early that made a big difference.”
“We forced them into some field goals that they missed, and that really took the wind out of their sails. We had an ability to convert when we had the opportunities to score today, which was good to see.”
On Aaron Dawson: “He’s a great football player; I’m glad he’s on our team. He continues to excel at a high level and can really do everything. The thing I wish people could see is what happens on our sideline and during the week of preparation. We’re walking back after the game, and all of the players are like, ‘How many yards did you have?’ And he’s like, ‘I don’t know. Right back to it on Monday.’ Even after our losses, that’s his mentality. I’m really thankful that he’s part of the team and what he brings beyond the football piece.”
“We did a nice job containing the run plays early, and then they just abandoned it. We have to do a better job in coverage, we wanted to finish stronger in terms of stopping the pass.”
On Zero Penalties: “We’ve got to continue to be smart. There are some penalties that are part of the game. You’re OK with some of those, but when you’re making penalties like unsportsmanlike conduct and pre-snap penalties, you can’t have those and win a football game. We were able to eliminate those today, and we’ve got to do it again next week.”
Valpo (5-5, 4-3 PFL) will try to clinch a winning season next week on Senior Day at Brown Field. Drake will be in town for a noon kickoff on ESPN+.