The Valparaiso University football team never stopped battling.
The Beacons went toe-to-toe with the defending Pioneer Football League champion, the preseason favorite to win the league and this year’s PFL runner-up in Saturday afternoon’s season finale in St. Paul, Minn., only to see host St. Thomas escape with a 16-10 victory, narrowly keeping the nation’s longest home winning streak intact by recording their 31st straight home win. The determination that fans have come to expect from the Valpo football program was on display yet again, but a season that was filled with one-score games ended with the Brown & Gold on the wrong side of another battle that could have gone either way.
How It Happened
- St. Thomas elected to receive the opening kickoff after winning the toss, and wasted little time in connecting on the game’s first big play. A 50-yard pass completion on the first play from scrimmage set up an eventual 29-yard field goal to give the guests the early edge.
- After the opening drive resulted in a field goal for the Tommies, each team punted twice before the first quarter came to an end. Evan Matthes (Reston, Va. / South Lake [West Virginia]) had boots of 48 and 47 yards before pinning the Tommies at their own three after a 43-yarder early in the second stanza. He again sent one inside the 10 with a 42 yarder to cap a sequence where each of Valpo’s first four drives resulted in punts.
- Despite being pinned deep by Matthes, the hosts put together a touchdown drive, going 93 yards on eight plays including a 30-yard TD pass to make it 10-0.
- After St. Thomas assembled its best drive of the half, Valpo followed suit. Quarterback Rowan Keefe (Park Ridge, Ill. / Maine South) got in a rhythm with three straight completions in the middle of the drive, all of 10 yards or more, eventually setting up a 38-yard field goal try that Ryan Hawk (Columbus, Ohio / Bishop Hartley) sent through the uprights.
- Valpo notched an interception on the final play of the first half as Owen Cherry (LaGrange, Ill. / Lyons Township) grabbed a Cherry pick to send the game to the break at 10-3.
- Valpo got a big stop on fourth-and-7 at the Valpo 30 as St. Thomas turned it over on downs with 7:57 left in the third. That prompted a game-tying touchdown drive that featured a pair of big catches by Solomon Davis (Brighton, Tenn. / Brighton) and one from Chris Gundy (Smithfield, Va. / Smithfield). Davis hauled in the 22-yard grab for the score to make it 10-10 at 3:33 in the third.
- Several big runs by Hope Adebayo highlighted a drive where St. Thomas found the end zone on a nine-yard rush by Landon Reed on the first play of the fourth quarter. The PAT failed, but the Tommies still grabbed a 16-10 advantage.
- Valpo pulled out all the stops on its first drive of the fourth quarter. Matthes completed a 19-yard pass to Wade Abrams (Fox River Grove, Ill. / Cary-Grove) on a fake punt on fourth-and-8 from Valpo’s own 22-yard line to extend the drive. Another big play was a 16-yard catch by Brandon Jimenez (Suffern, N.Y. / Don Bosco Prep [Albany]) on third-and-9 from the Valpo 42.
- A key personal foul penalty eventually set Valpo behind the sticks, and a promising drive was extinguished at the St. Thomas 25 on a turnover on downs with 8:35 on the clock.
- The Tommies ran clock by moving the chains several times, but eventually punted it away and allowed Valpo to take over on its own 10 with 2:55 on the clock, needing 90 yards to score a go-ahead touchdown.
- Valpo did not pick up a first down on the ensuing drive, eventually turning it over on downs and setting up victory formation for the hosts.
Inside the Game
- Davis hauled in eight catches for 82 yards and one touchdown. The TD was his sixth receiving this season, the 10th receiving of his career and his 11th career total score including one rushing TD.
- Hawk’s 38 yarder was his fourth make in seven chances this season.
- Matthes had five punts for 229 yards, averaging 45.8 yards per punt and sending three inside the 20. He finished the season with a punting average of 43.2, tied for third in program history.
- Cherry’s interception was the first of his career.
- Redshirt senior Evan Annis (Hilliard, Ohio / Hilliard Davidson) posted a team-high nine tackles, while Colin Graves (Seattle, Wash. / Bishop Blanchet) and Mohamed Kamara (Kalamazoo, Mich. / Kalamazoo Central [Hope]) had eight stops apiece.
- Valpo boasted six tackles for loss and three sacks.
- The Beacons were outgained 296-236. The teams were even in the turnover battle, and Valpo finished the season without winning the turnover battle in any game this year.
- Mann ran for 42 yards on 11 carries, while Keefe finished the game at 13-of-25 passing for 135 yards and one score.
- Seven of Valpo’s 11 games this season were one-score affairs. Seven of the eight PFL games were decided by 10 points or fewer and six of them were one-score affairs. Valpo finished 3-8 overall and 2-6 in PFL play but five of the six PFL losses were one-score games.
- A Valpo win would have represented the program’s longest winning streak since 2003 and the first time the Beacons had won the final three league games of a season since 1971.