The Valparaiso University football team knocked on the door of a signature season-opening win on Saturday afternoon at Rooney Field in Pittsburgh, taking scholarship foe Duquesne down to the wire in a 23-21 defeat. Valpo flashed a multitude of weapons on offense while making big plays on defense against a strong Dukes team that led the NEC in total offense last season.
How It Happened
- Redshirt freshman punter Kyle Ulbrich (Mentor, Ohio / Mentor) was put right to work in his collegiate debut. The first two Valpo possessions resulted in Ulbrich boots into the wind of 45 and 44 yards, helping Valpo in the field position battle early in the game. He earned playing time after a strong showing throughout camp.
- The Dukes got on the scoreboard first when A.J. Hines used a 4-yard touchdown rush to start the scoring with 5:01 left in the first quarter, making it 7-0 Duquesne. A 23-yard pass play from QB Daniel Parr to Nehari Crawford set up the score, which capped a 10-play, 72-yard scoring drive.
- Following the Duquesne score, Valpo put together its best drive of the day to that point, one that spanned the end of the first quarter and beginning of the second quarter. The drive featured a little bit of everything from the Valpo offense, including several big runs by Kyle Cartales (Loxahatchee, Fla. / Cardinal Newman) with help from a good push by the offensive line. Mason Sutter (Woodstock, Ill. / Woodstock) had three catches on the scoring drive, while Griffin Norberg (Sunrise, Fla. / Western) hauled one in for a 19-yard gain. Cartales plunged into the end zone from 1 yard out to cap that drive with Valpo’s first touchdown of the season, tying the game at seven with 14:19 left in the second quarter. Sutter made perhaps the biggest play of the drive with a 14-yard reception on fourth-and-5 from the Duquesne 40.
- Another balanced drive for Valpo culminated in a 1-yard run by Cartales, and Valpo snared its first lead of the season, going ahead 14-7 with 7:25 left in the second quarter. That drive saw Ryan Markoff (Centerville, Ohio / Archbishop Alter) enter the game for three plays at quarterback and rush for 21 yards, before starting quarterback Chris Duncan found Norberg for 17 yards and Bailey Gessinger (Napanee, Ind. / Northwood) for 31.
- Duquesne marched down field on its final drive of the first half and found the end zone on a 2-yard score by Hines. That touchdown caused a 14-14 deadlock
- It took only four plays for Duquesne to makes its way into the red zone on the first drive of the second half, but Christian Campbell (South Bend, Ind. / Washington) provided one of the biggest defensive plays of the day with an interception in the end zone to thwart the scoring chance.
- Pivotal plays by Drew Snouffer (Columbus, Ohio / Upper Arlington) and Jalin LeAndre (West Park, Fla. / Hallandale) forced an offense that had been in a groove to punt with 5:56 left in the third quarter. Snouffer caused an intentional grounding penalty resulting in a sack for a loss of four before LeAndre provided quality coverage on a third down pass that fell incomplete.
- A 57-yard pass from Daniel Parr to Kellon Taylor put the Dukes into the red zone on their next drive, but the defense stood tall, forcing them to settle for a 38-yard field goal and a narrow 17-14 lead with 50 seconds left in the third.
- On the final play of the third quarter, Parker Fox (Winamac, Ind. / Winamac) got wide open, positioning himself for a 19-yard grab to the Valpo 42 on 3rd-and-10, giving Valpo a fresh set of a downs. Fox added his name to the long list of Valpo players who made big plays on Saturday.
- On the first play of the fourth quarter, Duncan completed a bubble screen to Norberg, who eluded several would-be tacklers while tip-toeing the sideline. He went 58 yards for a touchdown, putting Valpo back on top 21-17 with 14:48 remaining in the fourth.
- On its first drive of the fourth, Duquesne went for it on a fourth-and-1 from the Valpo 7, and Austin Petrie (Livonia, Mich. / Stevenson) and Josmar Diaz-Martinez (Miramar, Fla. / Miramar) teamed up for a huge tackle. That allowed Valpo to continue to cling to the four-point lead.
- Duquesne went on an 11-play, 74-yard drive that finished with a Hines touchdown with 2:42 remaining in regulation, the Dukes a 23-21 edge. The PAT was no good.
- Valpo turned it over on downs on the final drive of the day, allowing Duquesne to send out the victory formation with 46 seconds remaining.
Inside the Game
- Snouffer and Petrie led the way for a Valpo defense that kept a high-powered offense in check, both registering double-figure tackle totals. Snouffer paced the team with 11 (seven solos), while Petrie’s 10 marked a career high.
- Campbell’s interception helped him make a splash in his return after being away from the team last season. The pick was the fourth of his collegiate career.
- Valpo racked up 325 yards of total offense, 229 of which came through the air. Duncan went 15-of-26 in his first career start, accounting for all 229 yards passing and one touchdown while making no turnovers.
- Norberg and Sutter had four catches apiece, leading a group of eight Valpo players who had at least one reception. Norberg racked up a game-high 97 receiving yards.
- Cartales’ pair of rushing touchdowns lifted his career total from three to five. He led the rushing attack with 14 carries for 61 yards. He has eight total touchdowns, three receiving.
- Norberg notched his eighth career receiving touchdown and his 10th overall score. He thrived in the season opener for the second straight year, racking up a career-high 104 yards a year ago at Montana before coming just shy with his 97 on Saturday.
- Duncan’s touchdown pass was the third of his career, while his 229 passing yards marked a new personal best.
- Beating Duquesne in Pittsburgh has been no easy task for nonconference opponents during 14th-year head coach Jerry Schmitt’s tenure. The Dukes are 25-3 in nonconference home games in that time. In addition, Duquesne received votes in the latest STATS FCS Top 25.
Thoughts from Head Coach Dave Cecchini
Thoughts on the Game: “There’s no question that we’re encouraged by a lot of what we saw today, but we’re also frustrated. It was our first game of the season. We have a mostly veteran group of guys, but there were a few first-game mistakes that cost us. Critical penalties at critical times in the game cost us on both sides of the ball. That stymied our opportunity to garner momentum.”
On Chris Duncan: “I’m very proud of the way Chris played. He played well enough for us to win this football game. He did what we asked him to do. He made veterans reads and great scrambles. He didn’t turn the football over despite the slippery conditions. He did an outstanding job of protecting the football, and I’m very proud of that. I know he’s only going to continue to get better.”
On Receiving Options: “As we expected, it was an ensemble cast. There’s not one guy who teams are going to be able to focus on stopping. Mason Sutter stepped up and made some big catches. Griffin Norberg always seems to make a big play when we need one. Jean Rene, Parker Fox and Bailey Gessinger made plays, as did other guys. That’s a real testament to the development of our recruiting. We’re not just bringing one or two guys who you can hang your hat on, we have depth to distribute the ball to different playmakers.”
On Christian Campbell: “It was really good to see him back in uniform. I’m proud to have him back at Valpo. He’s faced adversity and it was awesome to see him step up and make a key play.”
Valpo faces another tough test as scholarship opponent Youngstown State is next on the docket. The game will kick off at 1 p.m. next Saturday in Youngstown, Ohio and will be broadcast on ESPN+, while 95.1 FM Valparaiso will have the hometown radio call.