The Valparaiso University football team finished a year of improvement with the largest improvement yet on Senior Day at Brown Field on Saturday. The Crusaders sprinted out to a 28-3 lead after one quarter and held on for a 42-39 victory over Jacksonville. The victory marked a significant step forward for the Crusaders, who lost to the Dolphins by 45 points last season. Valpo finished the year with its highest league win total since 2003.
How It Happened
- The Crusaders grabbed the lead just 10 seconds into the game, when freshman Bailey Gessinger (Goshen, Ind. / Northwood) established the tone by exploding for an 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to put Valpo in front 7-0.
- The Crusaders continued the stellar start when they forced a fumble by quarterback Rylan Wells on Jacksonville’s first series. The fumble was recovered by Joey Diaz-Martinez (Miramar, Fla. / Miramer) at the Jacksonville 28.
- The Crusaders took full advantage of the favorable field position, as freshman quarterback Jimmy Seewald (Livonia, Mich. / Divine Child) plunged into the end zone for a 1-yard TD to complete the scoring drive.
- Jacksonville’s second drive also resulted in a turnover. Diaz-Martinez intercepted a Wells pass at the Valpo 47 to extend Valpo’s early success.
- Once again, the Valpo offense fully capitalized on the turnover. The Crusaders cashed in with a 9-play, 53-yard drive capped off by a 1-yard touchdown run by freshman Cody Boxrucker (West Chester, Ohio / Badin). Valpo led 21-0 with 6:39 remaining in the first quarter.
- The defense stood tall as Jacksonville drove inside the 5-yard line, but settled for a 23-yard field goal to get on the board.
- Junior Frank Catrine (Springboro, Ohio / Bishop Fenwick) took a direct snap on a trick play and took off for a 72-yard TD run after faking a handoff to Jarrett Morgan (Cooper City, Fla. / Cooper City). That score boosted Valpo’s lead to 28-3 with 2:23 left in the first quarter.
- The Dolphins reached the end zone twice in the second quarter, scoring on runs by Ulysses Bryant (16 yards) and Wells (14 yards).
- Valpo added a TD on a 55-yard grab by Morgan on a pass from Seewald. That score came with 6:31 left in the first half and was sandwiched between two Jacksonville TDs.
- Jacksonville struck on the first drive of the second half, trimming the Valpo lead to 35-24 on a 16-yard TD run by Wells.
- Valpo answered with a 5-yard TD pass from Seewald to Morgan late in the third quarter.
- The Dolphins pulled within 10 by virtue of Will Montgomery’s 3-yard TD run and a successful two-point conversion with 8:55 left in regulation.
- The Crusader defense came up with a key stop when Jacksonville turned it over on downs after going for it on fourth-and-2 from the Valpo 9. The Dolphins passed up the option of attempting a short field goal to cut the lead to one possession.
- Jacksonville cut the lead to three with a 23-yard TD catch by Brian Burnett on a pass from Wells.
- Catrine came up with a key onside kick recovery, then the Crusaders ran out the clock. On fourth down Seewald allowed time to expire by spring the opposite way down field and taking a 47-yard loss.
Inside the Game
- Valpo’s 28 points in the first quarter was its most in a single quarter since Oct. 13, 2007 against Butler, when the Crusaders scored 28 in the fourth. The Crusaders hadn’t scored 28 points in the opening quarter at least 15 years before Saturday.
- The Crusaders scored more points in the first quarter than they did in the entirety of any other PFL game this season.
- The kickoff return for a touchdown was Gessinger’s second of the season, his first coming at Morehead State on Oct. 1.
- The Crusaders recovered five opponent fumbles this season and lost just one fumble all year.
- Diaz-Martinez’s interception was his fifth of the season, while the fumble recovery was his second. He has eight interceptions in the first two years of his Valpo career.
- Boxrucker’s TD run was his seventh of the season.
- Catrine’s score was his first rushing TD since Oct. 11, 2014 against Missouri Baptist and the second of his career.
- Morgan hauled in his second TD pass and notched his fourth total score of the year.
- Valpo finished the season with four wins, matching their win total from Dave Cecchini’s first season in 2014 and equaling the program’s winningest season since 2000. The Crusaders’ three league wins marks their highest Pioneer Football League total since 2003.
- Jacksonville entered Saturday’s game 3-0 in PFL road games this season.
- Seewald went 18-for-24 and passed for 202 yards. Catrine had four carries for 114 rushing yards and chipped in six catches for 52 yards. Jarrett Morgan made seven grabs for 99 yards.
- Jalin LeAndre (Hollywood, Fla. / Hallandale) was Valpo’s leading tackler for the first time this year. He made eight stops.
- The Crusaders won the game despite being outrushed 329-165 and outgained 551-367.
Thoughts from Head Coach Dave Cecchini
- On the win: “Our kids came through when it counted. They made plays and did a great job running out the clock. They earned every second of this one.”
- On the opening kickoff return: “It was great and we needed it. It started with the huge kickoff return. I’m so proud of Bailey Gessinger and what he’s been able to provide. We needed Jarrett Morgan so much on offense and to be able to put another guy out there who can provide good kickoff returns all year is a Godsend.”
- On the offensive strategy: “This is the type of defense where they weren’t bend but don’t break. They get up in your face, but if you break through, you’re looking at 15-yard runs instead of 5-yard runs. We had some big plays. Frank Catrine came up huge in the running game. I give our kids credit for the way they went out and executed.
- On using the wildcat: “It’s always been a part of our package. Some weeks we use it, some weeks we don’t. Not having a real run threat with Jimmy Seewald, you need to have that against a team like this. You know they’re already playing a run-stopping defense. If you put a receiver or running back at quarterback, there’s nothing they can do that they’re not already doing. They can’t play the run any more than they already are. Once you break through the line of scrimmage, there’s nobody there.”
- On whether or not redshirt juniors will return: “When you have the degree from Valpo, it’s hard to keep guys here for that fifth year. We’re waiting to hear on J.J. Nunes’ fifth-year petition from the NCAA. Jay Slone is looking into coming back, and it would be great to have him for another year.”
- On the future: “We are really, really excited about the talent that we have coming back. We felt like we went out and competed against just about everybody in the PFL. We feel like this program is going to challenge for a league championship sometime in the very near future.”