Davidson (3-1, 0-1 PFL)
at Valparaiso (0-3, 0-0 PFL)
Game #4: Saturday, Sept. 29, 1 p.m. CT
Brown Field (5,000 – ProGrass) – Valparaiso, Ind.
This Week in Valpo Football: It’s a special day on the Valparaiso University calendar as students, fans and alumni alike will flock to Brown Field on Saturday for the annual homecoming football game. Valpo will attempt to send its supporters home happy as it welcomes Davidson for Valpo’s first Pioneer Football League game of 2018.
Last Time Out: Valpo dropped its home opener to Truman State 34-20 last week at Brown Field. Valpo, a member of the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League, played three opponents that give football scholarships during the nonconference slate. Redshirt freshman Trey Bilinski went 15-of-22 for 209 yards and two touchdowns in his first career start at quarterback, while Kyle Cartales accounted for 45 yards on the ground (15 carries) and 75 yards through the air (five receptions). Valpo was the more effective passing team, outdoing the Bulldogs 283-122 in passing yards despite being narrowly outgained 387-371 in total offense.
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) continues 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 15-32 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.
Homecoming History: Valpo has thrived in its homecoming games over the last five seasons. During that span, the team owns a 4-1 record on homecoming Saturday. Valpo defeated Campbell in overtime in 2013, Missouri Baptist in 2014, Davidson in 2016 and Stetson in 2017. The only loss over the last five seasons was to San Diego in 2015. Last year’s victory was a memorable one, as J.J. Nunes made a game-sealing interception to squash a Stetson drive that had reached the Valpo 12-yard line with 1:50 left in an eventual 27-24 win. A win on Saturday over Davidson would make it 5-1 in homecoming games over the last six seasons.
The Man Behind The Mic: The voice that has become synonymous with Valpo Athletics will receive a high honor from the University this weekend. Todd Ickow, in his 28th year at Valpo and his 26th as the play-by-play voice of Valpo football, is set to receive Honorary Alumni status. Since he began calling Valpo football and basketball, the University has gone through multiple conference changes, athletic directors and head coaches. Todd’s voice, though, has remained a constant. Made famous by his call of Bryce Drew’s shot in the 1998 NCAA Tournament, Todd has endeared himself to Valpo fans spanning three decades. He graduated from Indiana University with a degree in radio broadcasting before beginning a stint that turned into a tenure that is on its way to turning into a lifetime at Valpo.
Defending Brown Field: Valpo has enjoyed great success on its home field in recent years. The team finished 4-1 at home a year ago, when 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 last season 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 a six-game PFL home winning streak, a streak that started with a 42-39 win over Jacksonville in the 2016 season finale.
Series Notes: Davidson is back on Valpo’s schedule after a one-year hiatus. Valpo trails the all-time series 7-4, but won the most recent meetings in 2015 and 2016. Quarterback Ryan Clarke inserted his name into the Valpo record book in the 2015 matchup by throwing five touchdown passes to lift his team to a 42-35 victory in North Carolina, while Valpo won 24-20 in 2016 at Brown Field. The 2016 meeting was also homecoming as Valpo opened Pioneer Football League play with a win for the first time since 2013 and won consecutive games for the first time since 2007. Cody Boxrucker, then a freshman, ran for two touchdowns on just five carries in the win over the Wildcats. Valpo lost the first five games of the head-to-head series, which began in 2001, but is 4-2 since snapping that skid in 2008.
Scouting Davidson: Davidson swept through its nonconference schedule before last week’s 42-21 setback at Dayton to open PFL play. Two weeks ago, Davidson received national attention after a 91-61 win over Guilford that saw the Wildcats set school records for points scored, total yards (964) and rushing yards (685) while establishing FCS national records for total yards and rushing yards in a game. Davidson is under the direction of Scott Abell, who has taken the helm after earning three Old Dominion Athletic Conference Championships in his six seasons as the head coach at Washington & Lee. Davidson leads the PFL in scoring offense (48.8 points per game) but ranks ninth in scoring defense (36.0). The Wildcats have been a run-heavy offense as they lead the league in rushing offense while ranking ninth in passing offense. Wesley Dugger is the league’s leading rusher at 134.5 yards per game, while William Wicks has a league-leading eight TDs this season, six rushing and two passing.
Airing It Out: Redshirt freshman Trey Bilinski became the second Valpo quarterback in the first three weeks of the season to throw for over 200 yards in his first career start. After Chris Duncan passed for 229 and one score at Duquesne, Bilinski racked up 209 yards through the air while tossing two touchdowns in his first start. A guy by the name of Jimmy Seewald threw for 345 yards and matched a program record by tossing five touchdowns in his first career start on Sept. 17, 2016 against Trinity International.
Jimmy in the Record Book: Speaking of Seewald, the junior quarterback cracked the Top 5 in program history in career passing yards when he made his season debut last week against Truman State. He leapfrogged Dave Lass (1962-1964) for fifth in program history and enters this week with 4,119 career passing yards. Seewald becomes the first player to move into the program’s Top 5 in passing yards since Eric Hoffman (2011-2013), who exited as the Valpo record holder for career passing yards.
Splitting the Uprights: Junior kicker Dimitrios Latsonas went 2-for-2 on field goal tries last week against Truman State, his first two made field goals of the season. It was the fourth time in his career that he had multiple field-goal makes in a game. Both field goals against the Bulldogs were from 35 yards or longer. 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.
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 a PFL-leading 12.3 tackles per game over his first three games this year. He ranks fifth nationally in tackles per game and fourth in total tackles. Two PFL players rank in the Top 4 nationally as Wesley Beans of Marist leads the nation in tackles per game at 7.7. Snouffer has led the team in all three games as he followed back-to-back 11-tackle showings with a season-high 15 last week. He now has 14 career double-figure tackle outputs and has recorded 10 tackles or more in five straight games dating back to last season.
Turner Tackling Truman: Linebacker Nick Turner had his best showing of the season with 11 tackles last week against Truman State. The senior captain had the seventh double-figure tackle game of his career and the first since ending 2017 with three straight games with 10 tackles or more.
On This Date: This will mark the first time Valpo has played a home game on Sept. 29 since 1962 when head coaches Emory Bauer and Walt Reiner saw their team fall 13-6 to ICC foe Saint Joseph’s. That incarnation of Valpo football tied for second in its seven-team conference.
A Pick to Click: Josmar Diaz-Martinez made his 10th career interception last week against Truman State, becoming the first Valpo player since at least 2005 to make 10 career picks. It was his first interception of the season. He returned the interception 23 yards, the second longest interception return of his career after a 49-yarder for a touchdown in 2016 against Drake. Diaz-Martinez has at least one interception in all four of his seasons at Valpo. The senior captain has been a fixture from Day 1 as a defensive back. He has started 24 consecutive games, played in all 35 games of his collegiate career and made 32 starts.
Wide Range of Wide Receivers: Valpo has spread the ball out to various options this year as 11 different players have caught passes. Griffin Norberg has led the way with 17 catches for 266 yards, while Mason Sutter and Jean Rene have nine grabs apiece. Kyle Cartales (7), Bailey Gessinger (4), Deuce Larose (3) and Elias Earley (2) are other players with multiple receptions over the first three games.
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 35 games during his collegiate career. Rentschler has played in 28 straight games dating back to his freshman season.
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.