Drake (4-2, 3-1 PFL)
at Valparaiso (1-6, 1-3 PFL)
Game #8: Saturday, Oct. 27, 1 p.m. CT
Brown Field (5,000 – Astroturf) – Valparaiso, Ind.
This Week in Valpo Football: The Valparaiso University football team will return to its home field this week as the Drake Bulldogs come to town for a Pioneer Football League showdown. Valpo had a five-game home PFL winning streak snapped in this year’s PFL opener against Davidson, but started a new home streak in the most recent home game against rival Butler. A win on Saturday would move Valpo to within one victory of securing a winning home record for the third straight season.
Last Time Out: For the third time this season, Valpo fell just shy in a game decided by seven points or fewer. A 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Bailey Gessinger, a fumble recovery by Drew Snouffer and an on-side kick recovery all contributed to Valpo’s valiant comeback effort in the final 10 minutes, but the host Eagles held on for a 31-24 win. Snouffer’s fumble recovery was part of a big day that also included a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown, a sack and a team-high 13 tackles.
Following Valpo Football: This week’s game will air on ESPN+, which is available for subscribers for the price of $4.99 per month. Todd Ickow and Dave Huseman will describe the action. 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 16-35 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 all-time series is tilted in Drake’s favor 22-3 in a matchup that dates back to 1993. Valpo ended a number of long skids in 2017, but the head-to-head losing streak against the Bulldogs wasn’t one of them. Drake captured its 14th consecutive win over Valpo with a 38-13 victory in Des Moines. Valpo’s last win in the all-time set came on Oct. 25, 2003, a thriller that saw the eventual PFL champions prevail 51-45 in overtime.
Putting the Special in Special Teams: The last two weeks have certainly been special for Valpo return specialist Bailey Gessinger. A kickoff return for a touchdown of over 90 yards? That’s rare enough. But to do it back-to-back weeks? That’s almost unheard of. After starting the second half of the Oct. 13 game against Butler with a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, Gessinger had a return for 93 yards and a score in the fourth quarter of last week’s game at Morehead State. Gessinger tied his own program record for kickoff return TDs in a single season, matching his mark of two set as a freshman in 2016. Furthermore, Gessinger’s most recent kickoff return for a TD came in the same location as his first as he had an 89-yard kickoff return for a TD on Oct. 1, 2016 at Morehead State. He finished with 153 return yards against the Eagles, the 16th-most nationally in a single game this season. Gessinger is one of four players in FCS with two kickoff returns for touchdowns this season, joining Isaac Foster (Kennesaw State), Malik Wilson (N.C. A&T) and Jimmie Robinson (Bethune-Cookman). Gessinger has four career kickoff returns for touchdowns, one shy of tying the Pioneer Football League record set by Butler’s Ryan Zimpleman (1998-2000).
Drew Dominant Defensively: Drew Snouffer has had many big days during his time in a Valpo uniform, but last week may very well have been the biggest. He had a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown, a key fumble recovery, a sack and a team-high 13 tackles in the game at Morehead State. The pick six was the first of his career and the first by a Valpo player since Jamari Booker had one last season, also against the Eagles. Snouffer has had at least one fumble recovery and at least one interception in each of the last three seasons. He leads the PFL in tackles at 11.4 per game and has 80 total tackles this year. His 11.4 tackles per game are tied for fifth nationally in FCS.
On-Side Kick Success: Valpo kept its comeback effort alive with a late on-side kick recovery last week at Morehead State. Valpo joined Jacksonville and Butler as PFL teams with an on-side kick recovery this season. This marked the first time under Dave Cecchini Valpo pulled off a successful on-side kick (previously 0-for-4). In fact, Valpo was 0-for-11 on on-side kick tries since the start of the 2008 season prior to last week’s recovery.
Fourth Quarter Outburst: Valpo scored 17 points in the fourth quarter last week at Morehead State, the highest single-quarter scoring output this season. Valpo last scored 17 points in a quarter on Nov. 11, 2017 at Butler with a 17-point first. Last week marked the most points scored in the fourth quarter by Valpo since Sept. 14, 2013, when the team scored 21 fourth-quarter points in a 36-34 loss to William Jewell.
Close Calls: Three of Valpo’s six losses have come by seven points or fewer. This marks the first time since 2003 Valpo has had three losses by seven points or fewer in the same season. The team has had a three-point loss at Duquesne, a five-point loss to Davidson and a seven-point loss at Morehead State this year.
Battling the Injury Bug: Injuries have been a major obstacle for Valpo football this season. If the hosts want to knock off Drake on Saturday, they will have to do so with a shorthanded squad. Valpo finished last week’s game at Morehead State with five regular starters and two key reserves on defense all sidelined in addition to being without the team’s starting running back due to an injury and starting punter for family reasons.
Scouting Drake: Drake boasts the top defense in the league as the Bulldogs are allowing just 19.2 points per game and 281.3 yards per contest. Senior quarterback Grant Kraemer is second in the league with 264 passing yards per game. Steven Doran (87.3 receiving yards per game) and Devin Cates (54.8) are the team’s top two receivers, while Drew Lauer (47.2 yards per game) is the top tailback on a team that ranks last in the league in rushing. Kicker Danny Donley is 6-for-6 on field goals this season, while Kieran Severa is the team’s leading tackler with 7.2 per contest. The Bulldogs, led by fifth-year head coach Rick Fox, are one of three teams nationally with four or more blocked punts this year. Drake has won six Pioneer Football League titles, most recently securing back-to-back league championships in 2011 and 2012. This year, the Bulldogs have league wins over Jacksonville (41-9), Butler (36-6) and Dayton (28-17), but fell to Stetson (23-21).
Battling the Bulldogs: This marks the third time in the first four home games of the season that Valpo will host a team known as the Bulldogs. Valpo has also welcomed Truman State and Butler to Brown Field in 2018.
Player-by-Player Quick Hits – Projected Offensive Starters
- WR Griffin Norberg - Has four touchdown catches of 58 yards or more this season and accomplished that 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 32 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 39 games during his collegiate career. Member of the 2017 All-PFL Second Team.
- RT Shannon Taliaferro – Has appeared in 24 straight games.
- TE Mason Sutter – Has played in all 39 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 15 Valpo players with a reception this season.
- QB Jimmy Seewald – Junior already ranks in the Top 5 in program history with 4,491 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 six games.
- RB Elias Earley – Projected to make his first career start on Saturday against 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 22 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 Matthew Messler – Redshirt junior who made the most of his first career start on Oct. 13 against Butler. He made a critical interception with 6:54 remaining in the fourth quarter and returned it all the way to the Butler 2, helping Valpo secure the Hoosier Helmet rivalry trophy for the second straight season.
- ILB Drew Snouffer – Is tied for fifth nationally in tackles per game.
- CB Cam Kelly – Had three pass breakups and a pair of tackles last week at Morehead State.
- 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… Turned in 10 tackles on Oct. 20 at Morehead State.
- CB Jalin LeAndre – Started all 11 games and had nine pass breakups in 2017.
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 Kyle Ulbrich – Has averaged 36.3 yards per punt over 12 punts (long 49) this season.
- RS Bailey Gessinger –Member of the 2017 All-PFL Second Team... Named PFL Special Teams Player of the Week on Oct. 14… Has two kickoff returns for touchdowns this season and four in his career, one shy of tying a PFL record.
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.