Truman State (0-3, 0-0 GLVC)
at Valparaiso (0-2, 0-0 PFL)
Game #3: Saturday, Sept. 22, 1 p.m. CT
Brown Field (5,000 – ProGrass) – Valparaiso, Ind.
This Week in Valpo Football: The Valparaiso University football team will commence the home portion of the 2018 season on Saturday afternoon as Truman State comes to town. Valpo will take the field at home in a game situation for the first time since Nov. 18, 2017, a thrilling 8-7 win over Dayton. This marks the first of five Brown Field dates for Valpo this season.
Last Time Out: Valpo incurred a 42-7 setback last week at full-scholarship foe Youngstown State. The game got off to a promising start when Griffin Norberg’s 75-yard touchdown reception from QB Chris Duncan gave Valpo a 7-0 lead, but the Penguins pulled away over the final three quarters. Norberg (five receptions, 102 yards) and Jean Rene (four receptions, 59 yards) were the leading receivers, while Drew Snouffer paced the defense with 11 tackles.
Following Valpo Football: All Valpo football home games will have video streaming this season. This week’s game will be available on ESPN3, which is free with a cable subscription. Todd Ickow (play-by-play) is back for his 26th season, while Dave Huseman (color commentary) begins his sixth season in the Valpo broadcast booth. For the 13th straight year, WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso) is home to all 11 Valpo football games in 2018. Links to live video, audio and stats are posted on ValpoAthletics.com.
Head Coach Dave Cecchini: Now in his fifth season as the program’s head coach, Cecchini has lifted Valpo football to new heights during his time in charge, turning a team that had won just three total games in the four seasons prior to his arrival - all against the same opponent - into one that finished with its first winning season since 2003 in 2017. Last year saw the program turn a corner as Valpo went 6-5 overall and 5-3 in Pioneer Football League play. Cecchini became the first Valpo coach since 2003 to earn PFL Coach of the Year honors. He was also named a finalist for the FCS Coach of the Year Award, the AFCA FCS Region 4 Coach of the Year and a finalist for the AFCA FCS National Coach of the Year. Valpo finished tied for third in the league standings after being picked to finish 10th of 11. The Valpo head coach enters this week with a 15-31 record, both overall and in four plus years on campus. Prior to arriving in Northwest Indiana, Cecchini served as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Lehigh for four years.
Defending Brown Field: Valpo has enjoyed great success on its home field in recent years. The team has won four straight home games after finishing 4-1 at home a year ago. Valpo compiled a winning record at home for the second straight season after 2016 marked the program’s first winning home record since 2004. The only home loss a year ago was by five points to scholarship foe Duquesne. Valpo went unbeaten in PFL home games and garnered four league wins at home in the same season for the first time in program history. A win on Saturday would give Valpo its first five-game home winning streak since a six gamer spanning the 2003 and 2004 seasons.
Home Opener History: Valpo has won a home opener once since 2008, beating Trinity International 49-24 in 2016. A year ago, the first Brown Field game of the season resulted in a 45-40 loss to Duquesne. Valpo has scored 40 points or more in each of its last two home openers. Valpo fans are undoubtedly champing at the bit to see their team at home this season, as this marks Valpo’s latest home opener since 2009, when the first Brown Field game did not occur until Sept. 26.
Snouffer Making Stops: After racking up 106 tackles in 11 games last season – the most among returning PFL players – Drew Snouffer is off to a strong start with 22 total tackles (16 solos) over his first two games this year. Snouffer has led the way in both games, making 11 tackles in each. He now has 13 career double-figure tackle outputs and has recorded 10 tackles or more in four straight games dating back to last season. Snouffer’s 11 tackles per game average leads the PFL, while his 16 solo stops are one behind Jason Balogh of Dayton for the league lead despite the fact that the Flyers (and most other PFL teams) have played three games to Valpo’s two.
Norberg Notes: Both of Valpo’s touchdown passes this season have featured senior Griffin Norberg on the receiving end. He tip-toed the sideline for a 58-yard grab against Duquesne before outrunning everyone for a 75-yard score against Youngstown State. Norberg is up to nine career receiving touchdowns to go along with a pair of rushing TDs. He has at least two receiving TDs in each of his four seasons in a Valpo uniform. Norberg also started last season with scores in each of his first two games. The 75 yarder against the Penguins was the longest catch of his career. The Valpo senior leads the team and ranks third in the conference with 4.5 receptions per game. His five grabs last week marked a career watermark. He finished with 102 receiving yards in Youngstown, his second career 100-yard performance, two yards shy of his career high last season at Montana. Norberg is one of four players in the conference with a reception of 75 yards or more this season.
Region Representation: Local running back Anthony Maceo – a true freshman who was the starting quarterback at Portage High School last year – has cracked the projected two-deep for Saturday’s game against Truman State. He made his collegiate debut last week with four carries for 18 yards including a long of 14 yards. Maceo played for former Valpo football player and current Portage head coach Darren Rodriguez in high school. Maceo became the first Portage product to play in a game at Valpo since Kris Hardaway in 2002. A pair of Valpo High School products are also featured on the roster – true freshmen Adrian Guzman and Michael Scarsella. Starting offensive lineman Eric Rentschler (Highland) is also a Northwest Indiana native.
Same Faces, New Places: Redshirt freshman quarterback Trey Bilinski made his Valpo debut last week at Youngstown State, completing three of his five pass attempts. Bilinski was high school teammates with Valpo wide receiver / return specialist Bailey Gessinger at Northwood High School in Indiana. Bilinski threw for 3,325 yards and 39 touchdowns as a senior in high school. He set school records for passing yards in a game (350), passing yards in a season (3,325), career passing yards (6,731), passing TDs in a game (four, 6x), passing TDs in a season (39) and career passing TDs (72). He led his team to a 14-1 record as a senior.
Series Notes: This will mark the first all-time meeting between these two teams.
Scouting Truman State: Truman State is off to an 0-3 start, but is coming off a narrow 21-20 defeat to Saginaw Valley State. The Bulldogs held a 20-7 lead with five minutes remaining, but Saginaw came from behind with two late touchdowns. Truman State features junior defensive end Sam Reeves, who was an all-GLVC first-team performer each of the last two years. Senior running back / return specialist Malique Robbins was also a first-team all-league selection a year ago. The Bulldogs strung together a four-game winning streak to finish the 2017 season with a 5-6 record, 4-3 in conference play. Head coach Gregg Nesbitt has been at the helm at Truman State since 2010. He previously served as the team’s defensive coordinator from 1990-1993 and owns 33 years of coaching experience. Quarterback Jaden Barr is 54-of-100 and has thrown six interceptions while passing for 447 yards through three games. Dante Ruffin is the leading receiver with 11 catches for 125 yards, while Barr doubles as the leading rusher with 35 carries for 216 yards and one touchdown.
Battling the Bulldogs: Valpo will play a team known as the Bulldogs in three of its five home games this season. The Bulldogs of Truman State come to town on Saturday before PFL foes Butler (Oct. 13) and Drake (Oct. 27) make their way to Porter County next month.
Close Call: The Week 1 game at Duquesne was Valpo’s first loss by two points or fewer since Oct. 25, 2014, a 48-47 defeat at Morehead State. Valpo has played in more games decided by five points or fewer since the start of the 2016 season (8) than it had over the previous five seasons combined (7).
Keeping Control: Valpo did not turn the ball over in its season opener at Duquesne, the first time Valpo has played a turnover-free game since Sept. 30 of last season against Stetson. This was the first time Valpo played turnover-free in a season opener since 2012.
An Experienced Crew: The two-deep for the season’s first game featured 11 seniors, 12 redshirt juniors, eight juniors, five redshirt sophomores, 10 sophomores and one redshirt freshman on offense and defense (several positions have three players listed). The 23 seniors and redshirt juniors are the most of the Cecchini Era after Valpo had just five players in their fourth or fifth season of college football a year ago. Only one redshirt freshman and no true freshmen are on the two-deep for a program that is just three years removed from having 17 true freshmen on that chart.
Preseason Accolades: Valpo had a trio of representatives on the 2018 Preseason All-Pioneer Football League Team. Senior linebacker Nick Turner, senior offensive lineman Tom Schofield and junior return specialist Bailey Gessinger all garnered preseason recognition. Turner was one of two Valpo players and four in the entire PFL to exceed 100 tackles last year. Schofield started all 11 games for an offensive line that helped Valpo finish tied for 10th nationally in fewest sacks allowed per game. Gessinger was on the preseason all-league team as a return specialist for the second consecutive year. Valpo was picked to finish tied for fourth in the 2018 PFL Preseason Poll, the team’s highest predicted finish since the PFL combined into one division in 2006.
A Look at the Linebackers: The starting corps of linebackers figures to be an area of strength for Valpo. Only two returning players in the entire PFL surpassed 100 tackles a year ago. Both play their home games at Brown Field – Drew Snouffer and Nick Turner. That duo of Valpo captains became the first pair of Valpo teammates to surpass 100 tackles in the same season since Alex Green and Patrick Derbak in 2013. Turner and Snouffer are joined by fellow senior Mike Wheeler and junior Austin Petrie to form a strong group of starting linebackers. Wheeler, Turner and Snouffer started all 11 games last season and Petrie played in nine and made seven starts. Snouffer has started all 22 games over the last two seasons. This quartet combined for 278 tackles in 2017 and enters the 2018 campaign with a combined 512 career tackles.
Some Love for the Line: Speaking of strengths and areas of experience, the line on both sides is certainly another. On the offensive line, Redshirt juniors Andrew Lundberg and Jack Jarnigan and seniors Eric Rentschler and Tom Schofield hold four of the starting spots with redshirt junior Terrance Roberts and senior Shannon Taliaferro both seeing time at right tackle. Lundberg, Rentschler, Schofield and Jarnigan have all been consistent fixtures since the start of the 2016 season – missing a combined three games (Lundberg two, Jarnigan one) during that 24-game span. Schofield has started every game since the start of 2016 and has played in all 34 games during his collegiate career. Rentschler has played in 27 straight games dating back to his freshman season.
JDM: Speaking of players who have seen a lot of snaps on defense the last three years, senior captain Josmar Diaz-Martinez has been a fixture from Day 1 as a defensive back. He has started 23 consecutive games, played in all 34 games of his collegiate career and made 31 starts.
Kicking Things Off: Junior kicker Dimitrios Latsonas placed his name in the Valpo record book with his performance in 2017. His 11 made field goals tied for fourth in program history, while his 35 successful PATs established a single-season Valpo record. He also tied the single-game record for made PATs with seven against Morehead State on Oct. 28. In addition, Latsonas booted 10 touchbacks on kickoffs.
Jimmy in the Record Book: After passing for the fourth-most yards (2,602) and fifth-most touchdowns (18) in a single season in Valpo history as a sophomore, junior quarterback Jimmy Seewald is already on the verge of cracking the Top 5 in program history in career passing yards. He is just 17 passing yards away from usurping Dave Lass (1962-1964) for fifth in program history. Seewald enters his junior year with 4,045 career passing yards.
Oh Captain, My Captain: Valparaiso enters the 2018 season with four captains: junior quarterback Jimmy Seewald, senior linebacker Drew Snouffer, senior linebacker Nick Turner and senior defensive back Josmar Diaz-Martinez. Snouffer is the lone captain in his second season in that role.
Wrapping Up 2017: Valpo football turned a corner a year ago, assembling its first winning season since 2003 while finishing in a three-way tie for third in the PFL after being picked to place 10th of 11 in the preseason poll. Valpo won four of its last five games and completed the season with 330 points scored, the second most in a single season in program history. Valpo also finished the year second in program history in yards of total offense with 4,398. Valpo defended Brown Field well, going 4-0 in PFL home games and winning four league home games in the same year for the first time ever. Valpo captured five league wins in the same season for the first time since 1961 and finished ahead of six teams in the league standings for the first time since 1954.