Valparaiso (1-5, 1-2 PFL)
at Morehead State (2-4, 1-2 PFL)
Game #7: Saturday, Oct. 20, 1 p.m. CT
Jayne Stadium (10,000 – Astroturf GameDay Grass) – Morehead, Ky.
This Week in Valpo Football: The Valparaiso University football team will look to make it back-to-back wins this week as the team hits the road to face off with Morehead State. A victory would also give Valpo consecutive head-to-head wins for the first time in an all-time series that dates back to 1996. It’s homecoming weekend for the host Eagles – an event Valpo certainly wouldn’t mind spoiling with a victory.
Last Time Out: The Hoosier Helmet rivalry trophy will remain in Porter County for another 12 months after last week’s 35-17 win over Butler. Valpo started strong and finished strong – playing its best quarter of the year in the first before outdoing the opening-quarter performance in the fourth. Valpo outscored its guests from Indianapolis 14-0 in each of those periods to pave the way for a 35-17 victory. Valpo held Butler to 301 yards of total offense and went an eye-popping 14-of-18 on third down.
Following Valpo Football: This week’s game will air on ESPN+, which is available for subscribers for the price of $4.99 per month. If the hometown call is what you covet, the Todd Ickow description will be available on 95.1 FM Valparaiso, the TuneIn Radio App and online via TuneIn. Sports Information Director Brandon Vickrey will join Todd for the call. 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 will be available 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 16-34 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.
Series Notes: The Eagles own a commanding 19-4 lead in the all-time series, but Valpo snapped a streak of 10 straight head-to-head losses with a lopsided 63-32 win over Morehead State last season. Before breaking through in 2017, Valpo had led with less than three minutes remaining in each of the previous three meetings, but Morehead State had pulled out victories. Valpo has lost five straight in Morehead, Ky. dating back to Sept. 16, 2006, a 42-35 victory. Valpo is 2-8 all-time at Morehead State. Last year’s win at Brown Field saw Valpo rack up 597 yards of offense and post its highest scoring output since 1996.
Gessinger’s Gone: When the second half of last week’s game against Butler got underway, perhaps the game’s biggest play happened in a hurry. It took 12 seconds, to be exact, for return specialist Bailey Gessinger to take the kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown to snap a 14-14 tie and give Vapo a lead it would not relinquish. It probably also took around 12 seconds for the Pioneer Football League to decide its Special Teams Player of the Week as Gessinger garnered the honor, becoming the first Valpo player to win a weekly award this season. Of all the big plays that contributed to the win against Butler – and there were many – Gessinger’s may have been the biggest. The kickoff return for a TD was the third of his career after he became the first player in program history with two kickoff returns for TDs in a single season in 2015, his freshman campaign. Gessinger is one of 15 players in the FCS nation with a kickoff return of 97 yards or more this season. It was the longest kick return by a PFL player since Marist’s Lawrence Dickens went 100 yards on Nov. 7, 2015 vs. Stetson.
Keep the Chains Moving: Before last week, no team in the FCS and only one team in FBS (Missouri) had racked up 14 third-down conversions in a game this season. Three teams moved the chains 14 times on third down last week in FCS, including Valpo at 14-of-18 against Butler. Yale (14-of-20 vs. Mercer) and South Dakota (14-of-22 vs. UNI) also had 14 third-down conversions last week. Of the four teams in the nation (FBS and FCS) who have a game with 14 third-down conversions this season, Valpo’s was the most efficient with only four unsuccessful third-down tries.
Nifty 50: Last week’s game against Butler was Dave Cecchini’s 50th as the team’s head coach. The victory allowed him to become Valpo’s winningest coach through the first 50 games of his tenure since Bill Koch coached his 50th game on Sept. 18, 1982 at Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
Rivalry Win: Valpo has won the Hoosier Helmet back-to-back seasons for the first time since the 2004 and 2005 campaigns. In Dave Cecchini’s five seasons as head coach, Valpo now holds a 3-2 record against Butler. The 18-point win was Valpo’s largest margin of victory in the instate rivalry game since Oct. 14, 2000, when head coach Tom Horne’s bunch came out on top 33-7.
Next Man Up: With the Valpo defense plagued by injuries last week against Butler, redshirt junior Matthew Messler and freshman Michael Scarsella both made their first career starts memorable ones. Messler made a critical interception with 6:54 remaining in the fourth quarter and returned it all the way to the Butler 2, before Scarsella’s pick sealed the deal with 5:26 to go. Valpo has five interceptions as a team this season, led by Christian Campbell with two.
Boxrucker Barreling In: Last week against Butler, Valpo junior Cody Boxrucker had three rushing TDs in a single game for the second straight season after he did so against Trinity International last year. He became the first Valpo player to rush for three touchdowns in a game against a Division-I opponent since Jake Hutson on Sept. 28, 2013 against Campbell. Boxrucker is up to 17 career rushing touchdowns.
Scouting Morehead State: Morehead State went on the road and picked up a 35-28 win over Davidson last week, snapping an eight-game road losing streak. Senior quarterback Lawson Page is the lone QB in the FCS nation with multiple games this season with 200+ passing yards and 100+ rushing yards. Redshirt freshman running back Jovan Smith, a Louisville transfer, is seventh among freshman rushers in the FCS nation at 68.7 yards per game. The Eagles, picked to finish seventh in the PFL Preseason Poll, are led by Rob Tenyer, who is in his sixth year as the team’s head coach. Morehead State started PFL play with a 24-21 loss to Butler on Sept. 29 before a 51-34 defeat to league-leading San Diego on Oct. 6.
Player-by-Player Quick Hits – Projected Offensive Starters
- WR Griffin Norberg - Holds the impressive distinction of having four touchdown catches of 58 yards or more this season and accomplished the feat in four of the first five games. …Leads the team with five TD catches… Has 14 career touchdowns (12 receiving), one of four active Valpo players with 10+ TDs in their career.
- LT Andrew Lundberg – Has started every game this season and has been a fixture on the offensive line since the start of the 2016 season, missing just two games.
- LG Eric Rentschler – Computer engineering major who was named to the Academic All-PFL Second Team last season. Works in the Valpo IT Department. Local to Northwest Indiana as a Highland graduate. Has played in 31 straight games.
- C Jack Jarnigan – Has missed just one game since the start of the 2016 season…. Off the field, works as a graduate assistant in Valpo’s sports information department.
- RG Tom Schofield – Became the first Valpo offensive lineman to catch a pass since 2003 on Sept. 29 vs. Davidson. Has played in all 38 games during his collegiate career. Member of the 2017 All-PFL Second Team.
- RT Shannon Taliaferro – Has appeared in 23 straight games.
- TE Mason Sutter – Has played in all 38 games of his collegiate career. Has caught at least one TD pass in each of his four seasons and has five for his career… Led the team with 82 receiving yards on five receptions on Oct. 13 against Butler, earning the team’s Offensive Player of the Week award.
- WR Jean Rene – Had two TD catches on Sept. 29 vs. Davidson, becoming the first Valpo player to do so since Sept. 30, 2017 (Donny Navarro vs. Stetson). Is up to 15 career touchdowns (14 receiving).
- WR JD Koehler – One of 14 Valpo players with a reception this season.
- QB Jimmy Seewald – Junior already ranks in the Top 5 in program history with 4,396 career passing yards. Leapfrogged Dave Lass (1962-1964) on Sept. 22 against Truman State, becoming the first Valpo player to enter the Top 5 in program history in career passing yards since Eric Hoffman (2011-2013), who exited as the Valpo recordholder.
- QB Chris Duncan – Has thrown for five TDs and rushed for one this season in five games.
- RB Kyle Cartales – Tied with Norberg for the team lead with 30 points (five touchdowns)… Set a career high with 116 rushing yards on Oct. 6 at Drake.
Player-by-Player Quick Hits – Projected Defensive Starters
- DE Jesse Studyvin – Back after missing last season with an injury. Recipient of Team Type 1 Foundation scholarship for individuals with Type 1 Diabetes and played against fellow recipient and Truman State quarterback Jaden Barr earlier this season… President of Valpo’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
- NT James Reed – High school teammates with Jesse Studyvin at Saint Pius X… Named the Valpo Defensive Player of the Week for his performance on Oct. 13 against Butler, when he racked up a career-high eight tackles, second on the team in that game.
- DT Jake Trumpower – Has played in 21 consecutive games.
- OLB Mike Wheeler – Vice President of Valpo’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes… One of four returning starters at linebacker for Valpo.
- OLB Austin Petrie – Had a career-high 10 tackles in the season opener against Duquesne. Started his collegiate career as a running back before being converted to linebacker.
- ILB Nick Turner – Had his best showing of the season with 11 tackles on Sept. 22 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… Off the field, is involved in a male empowerment group on campus that addresses the issues minority males face in everyday life.
- ILB Drew Snouffer – Senior captain leads the PFL in tackles with 11.2 per game. Nobody else in the league has more than 9.5 tackles per game.
- CB Christian Campbell – Made his second interception of the season on Sept. 29 against Davidson, the fifth of his career. He returned the interception 25 yards, his second career return of 25+ yards and first since a 29 yarder in 2016.
- FS Jamari Booker – Had 20 tackles on Sept. 29 against Davidson, becoming the fifth player in the FCS nation with 20 or more tackles in a single game this season. Also became the first Valpo player since at least 2002 with 20+ tackles in a single game.
- SS Michael Scarsella – The Valpo native and true freshman made his first career interception to highlight his first career start on Oct. 13 against Butler.
- CB Cam Kelly – Has appeared in all six games this season.
Specialist Quick Hits – Projected Starters
- K 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.
- P Alex Ng – Also serves as a student assistant coach for the Valpo women’s soccer team… Has been a fixture at punter since his freshman season.
- P Kyle Ulbrich – Has averaged 36.6 yards per punt over 12 punts (long 49) this season.
- RS Bailey Gessinger – Had six kickoff returns for 133 yards and a long of 31 on Sept. 29 against Davidson, averaging 22.2 yards per return. The 133 kickoff return yards were his most since a career-high 150 on Nov. 12, 2016 vs. Jacksonville. That also marked the second-most return yards in a game by a PFL player this season… Member of the 2017 All-PFL Second Team... Had his third career kickoff return for a TD on Oct. 13, going 97 yards against Butler. That helped him earn PFL Special Teams Player of the Week on Oct. 14.
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.
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.