Central Connecticut (2-0, 0-0 NEC)
at Valparaiso (0-1, 0-0 PFL)
Game #2: Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, 1 p.m. CT
Brown Field (5,000) – Valparaiso, Ind.
This Week in Valpo Football: After opening the season with a Thursday game then enjoying a bye in Week 2, the Valparaiso University football team will have had 15 days off between games by the time it takes the field for Saturday’s home opener against Central Connecticut. Saturday will mark the first home game under Landon Fox and will kick off the program’s 100-year celebration that will take place throughout the home slate. Pennants commemorating the centennial season will be given away to fans attending Saturday’s game.
Valpo in Home Openers: 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 34-20 loss to Truman State. Landon Fox will look to become the first Valpo head coach to win the first home game of his tenure since Bill Koch coached Valpo to a 42-0 win over Denison on Sept. 17, 1977. After kicking off the season in August for the first time since 2014, Valpo enjoyed a bye week following a Thursday opener. This marks the longest layoff between the first and second games of the season in the 100-year history of Valpo football.
Strong Slate: This week will continue a challenging 2019 schedule for the Valpo football team. This is the second game in a season-opening stretch of nine straight against teams that finished with a winning record in 2018.
Behind the Line: The Valpo defense racked up seven tackles for loss in the season opener at Eastern Kentucky on Aug. 29. Valpo had two sacks against the Colonels, compared to a year ago when the team entered the seventh game of the season with two sacks and two years ago when the second sack of the season came in the ninth game. The seven tackles for loss against the Colonels were the second most Valpo has had in a game since the 2016 campaign behind eight last year at Marist.
Interception Insight: Valpo sophomore Michael Scarsella and fifth-year senior Matthew Messler both made their first career interception in Valpo’s season opener at Eastern Kentucky. Coincidentally, Messler and Scarsella’s first career picks also came in the same game, last season’s home victory over Butler.
Top Tackler: Jaxon Peifer has enjoyed a strong start to his sophomore season, leading the team with 10 tackles (six solos) in his first career start at Eastern Kentucky. His efforts allowed him to earn the team’s Defensive Player of the Week honor in addition to being named the Indiana National Guard Player of the Game by Valpo Athletics. One game into the season, Peifer has already exceeded his season tackle total from a year ago.
Centennial Season: In addition to marking the start of a new head coaching tenure, 2019 is a significant season for Valpo football as the program is set to celebrate its 100-year history over the course of the campaign. Valpo Athletics is set to recognize and celebrate individuals and teams from select eras at four games this season. The program has won 11 conference championships, including six in the Indiana Collegiate Conference and two in the Pioneer Football League. It’s also the 50th anniversary of the 1969 team that won an ICC crown, an anniversary that will be celebrated at this year’s Homecoming game. In addition, Valpo will retire the numbers of two University legends at the Homecoming game on Sept. 28 at Brown Field. Garry Puetz ’73 and Fuzzy Thurston ’56 (posthumous) will become the first players in program history to have their numbers retired. The use of No. 80 will be discontinued in honor of Thurston, while No. 71 will be retired for Puetz. Both were All-Americans in college and went on to win Super Bowl rings in the NFL – Puetz with Washington in 1982 and Thurston with the Green Bay Packers in the first two Super Bowls, his fifth and sixth NFL Championships.
Honoring an Era: The early days of Valpo football will be in the spotlight at the home opener as the athletic department celebrates the 1919-1949 teams. George Keogan led the first team on record to a 5-3 mark in 1919. Valpo quickly elevated to a championship level of success, winning the Western Interstate Conference in 1923. J.M. Christiansen led the team to a combined 22-2 record from 1931-1933. Valpo won the Indiana Intercollegiate Conference during the 1932 season, going a perfect 7-0. The program was discontinued in 1943 and 1944 due to World War II, then Loren Ellis coached Valpo to a 6-1 mark as the team resumed play in the Indiana Intercollegiate Conference championship season of 1945. Emory G. Bauer took over in 1946 and started to build toward the most successful era in program history.
Special Guest: As part of the celebration of the 1919-1949 Valpo football seasons, the program will welcome 94-year-old lifelong Valparaiso resident Donald Findling for this week’s game against Central Connecticut. He will handle the coin toss prior to the game. He graduated from Valparaiso High School in 1943 and is a veteran, having served in World War II for three years in both Europe and Japan and achieved the rank of army staff sergeant. He was recruited by Emory Bauer and played center on the 1947 and 1948 teams before playing quarterback in 1949, a year where Valpo defeated Wittenberg 20-0 in the Lutheran Bowl in Cleveland. Findling worked for the University for much of his career and retired as chief accountant after 26 years at Valpo. As a Lions Club volunteer, he and his fellow Lions were associated with the Valpo football team for nearly 10 years in the 1970s and 1980s doing the chains. Married for nearly 60 years, he and his wife Betty had three children and two grandchildren and he remains active as a fifth-generation Valpo resident.
Head Coach Landon Fox: After spending the last 11 seasons as the defensive coordinator and secondary coach at the University of Dayton, the new man in charge of the Valpo football program is no stranger to the Pioneer Football League. Landon Fox’s teams held opponents to an average of 19 points per game during his time as the defensive coordinator at Dayton. He helped the Flyers finish with 10 winning seasons in his 11 years on staff and guided a defensive backfield that produced one All-American, four Academic All-Americans, two PFL Special Teams Players of the Year and three corners who were invited to NFL Rookie Minicamp. Prior to joining Dayton’s staff, Fox served as the linebackers coach and special teams coordinator at Wayne State University in Detroit from 2005-2007. He also spent time as a defensive graduate assistant at Ball State University (2004), Dayton (2002-2003) and Lakeland College (2001). Fox began his coaching career as an assistant varsity coach at Preble Shawnee High School in Camden, Ohio during the 2000 season. During his playing days, Fox was a team captain and all-conference performer at Defiance College in Defiance, Ohio from 1995-1999 and graduated with a degree in physical education and health in May 2000 before earning his master’s degree in education from Lakeland in May 2002.
Following Valpo Football: All six Valpo football home games this season will be carried on ESPN+, which is available on a subscription basis at the cost of $4.99 per month. Todd Ickow (play-by-play) and Dave Huseman (color commentary) will reunite for the call of Saturday’s home opener. The game is also available on 95.1 FM Valparaiso and online via the TuneIn Radio app with Garrett Willis (play-by-play), Ben Ariano and Danny Dalenberg on the call. This season, Valpo will have separate broadcast teams for the video and radio feeds for the first time. For in-game updates, follow @valpoufootball on Twitter. Links to live video, audio and stats can be found on ValpoAthletics.com.
Series Notes: This will mark Valpo’s first matchup with Central Connecticut. However, the program is no stranger to playing NEC competition as Valpo will do so for the fifth consecutive season. Valpo has lost all four games against NEC foes over the last four years but has gotten progressively closer in each matchup. After losses to Sacred Heart in 2015 and 2016, the team fell 45-40 vs. Duquesne in 2017 and 23-21 at Duquesne in 2018.
Scouting Central Connecticut: The Blue Devils were picked to finish third in the Northeast Conference preseason poll after leading the league in scoring and yardage last season. Three offensive linemen were named to the Preseason All-NEC squad – J’Von Brown, Cole Phelps and Connor Mignore. Wide receiver Tyshaun James, defensive back Tajik Bagley and defensive back DJ Exilhomme were also preseason all-league selections. Brown was named to the Athlon FCS Preseason All-America team after earning Second Team STATS All-American honors in 2018. Central Connecticut started the season with a 26-23 victory at Fordham behind a last-second field goal by Francis Cole. They followed that with another three-point win, beating Merrimack 40-37 in Week 2. Cole hit a game-winning field goal for the second time in as many weeks, this time a 44 yarder to snap a 37-37 tie with three seconds remaining. The Blue Devils went 6-5 overall and 4-2 in the Patriot League last season.
Old Friends, Now Foes: Central Connecticut starting quarterback Aaron Winchester is good friends and former teammates with Valpo defensive back Nate Salomon. Winchester is a native of Lawrenceville, Ga. and Solomon is from Loganville, 10 miles away. Salomon went to Brockwood High School, while Winchester attended Georgia State High School.
A Look Back at 2018: After enjoying its first winning season in 15 years in 2017, Valpo finished an injury-riddled campaign with a record of 2-9. The team topped rival Butler 35-17, beating the Bulldogs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2005. In addition, Valpo won on Senior Day for the fourth time in the last five years, sending the senior class out with a 48-30 win over Jacksonville in the home finale. The team produced a first-team all-PFL performer, a second-team all-PFL honoree, seven PFL Honorable Mention athletes, two Academic All-PFL First Team recipients, one Academic All-PFL Second Team achiever and two FCS National Bowl participants during the season.
Player-by-Player Quick Hits – Projected Offensive Starters
- WR-x Ollie Reese, So. – Saw action in all 11 games and made four receptions as a true freshman in 2018… Made his first career TD catch in the 2019 season opener at Eastern Kentucky, a 61-yarder from Chris Duncan. After totaling four receptions for 35 yards all of last season, he had three grabs for 71 yards in the first game of his sophomore campaign… Father Steve is a financial wholesaler and mother Margie works at an antique shop in the city of Franklin… Has one sister, Bailey, who is a member of the University of Tennessee Knoxville Class of 2019… Father and grandfather both played college football… Father played football and baseball at Bridgewater College in Virginia and graduated in 1985.
- LT Andrew Lundberg, R-Sr. – Started all 11 games in 2018 and has missed just two games since the start of the 2016 season… Works security for hip hop artists who perform in Chicago… Spent the 2019 summer as an intern with the Valparaiso Parks Department… Is a double major in marketing and sports management.
- LG Sam Vas, Jr. – Appeared in all 11 games on Valpo’s offensive line last season… Majoring in mechanical engineering… Loves Star Wars and is good at solving Rubik’s Cubes.
- C Jack Jarnigan, R-Sr. – Has missed just one game since the start of the 2016 season…. Has lived in Minnesota, Oklahoma, Colorado, California and Illinois… Went on an exchange trip in fifth grade to Mexico and was there for two months… Team captain.
- RG Braden Russell, R-Fr. – Majoring in mechanical engineering… Used to live in Oklahoma… Appeared in three games on Valpo’s offensive line in 2018.
- RT Aaron Byrd, R-Fr. – Made his collegiate debut on Nov. 10 of last season, his only collegiate game entering 2019… Was an all-district trumpet player in high school.
- TE Alex Kluck, R-So. – Played in seven games and made one catch for five yards in 2018… Went to a high school that made the playoffs in Wisconsin in 19 of 20 seasons at the time he graduated (Cedarburg)… Mother played a year of soccer at Green Bay in 1989 before suffering a career-ending injury… Father played rugby at MSOE from 1989-1994… Spent the 2018 summer working for his uncle’s ocean kayaking and clothing company in San Diego and giving kayaking tours… That uncle played college soccer at Vermont from 2001-2003.
- WR-z Deuce Larose, Jr. – Played in 18 career games over his first two seasons in 2017 and 2018… Played ice hockey in middle school and didn’t start playing tackle football until eighth grade… Father Dan played safety at Florida State… Majoring in exercise science/pre-med.
- WR-slot JD Koehler, R-Sr. – Recovered a pair of Valpo on-side kicks in 2018 after previously no Valpo player had made an on-side kick recovery in over a decade… There were only five on-side kick recoveries in the entire PFL in 2018 and two of them were his…. Played in all 22 games over the 2017 and 2018 seasons including starting every game in 2018.
- QB Chris Duncan, R-Jr. – Started the season opener at Eastern Kentucky and threw his 17th career touchdown pass, a 61 yarder to Ollie Reese… Saw action in 10 games at quarterback and made seven starts in 2018, when he went 124-of-244 through the air while racking up 1,781 passing yards and 14 touchdowns… Ranked seventh in the PFL with 178.1 passing yards per game, sixth in pass efficiency at 123.7 and seventh in total offense at 191.3… Was a child actor and made it in a Pussycat Dolls music video, “Wait a Minute.”
- RB Kyle Cartales, Sr. – Led the team with 419 rushing yards, 97 carries, 4.3 yards per carry and 59.9 yards per game in 2018 despite having his season cut short by an injury after six games… Shared the team lead with four rushing touchdowns.
Player-by-Player Quick Hits – Projected Defensive Starters
- DE Trejuan Purty, Jr. – Has transferred to Valpo after being on the team at East Tennessee State each of the last two seasons… Played in one game last year, appearing in a contest against Gardner Webb.
- DE Gavin Twigg, Jr. – Has played in all 22 games over his first two seasons in 2017 and 2018.
- DT James Reed, Sr. – Named the Valpo Defensive Player of the Week for his performance on Oct. 13, 2018 against Butler, when he racked up a career-high eight tackles, second on the team in that game… Started all 11 games on Valpo’s defensive line in 2018 and corralled 50 tackles.
- DT Drew Gedrys, Jr. – Played in all 22 games over his first two seasons on campus, 2017 and 2018.
- LB (Will) Jaxon Peifer, So. – Had seven tackles over eight games during his freshman season in 2018… Exceeded his season total from last year with 10 in the season opener at Eastern Kentucky, leading the team in that category while making his first career start… Was named the team’s Defensive Player of the Week while also being named the National Guard Player of the Game by Valpo Athletics in Week 1… Majoring in nursing.
- MLB Nick Turner, R-Sr. – Was limited to four games due to an injury in 2018, totaling 17 tackles (six solos, 1 TFL) after earning 2017 All-PFL Second Team status and reaching double figures in tackles on five occasions including the last three games of the season… Team captain.
- LB (Sam) Laddie Skarecky, Jr. – Played in 11 games and registered 30 tackles and one pass breakup as a sophomore in 2018… Majoring in exercise science with a minor in biology… Spent the 2019 summer doing an internship as a marketing assistant for Valpo Athletics.
- CB Henry Hebda, Jr. – Played in nine games and totaled 12 tackles (seven solos) in 2018… Twin brother David is also a member of the Valpo football team… Majoring in nursing.
- S Jamari Booker, Sr. – Received 2018 All-PFL Honorable Mention recognition and was a member of the 2019 Preseason All-PFL squad… Tied for fourth in the PFL with 8.2 tackles per game in 2018, accruing 91 total tackles… Racked up 20 tackles on Sept. 29, 2018 vs. Davidson, the only player in the PFL with a 20-tackle game all season and one of just six players in the entire FCS nation to do so. Became the first Valpo player since at least 2002 with 20+ tackles in a single game… Team captain.
- S Michael Scarsella, So. – Had 49 tackles, one interception and one TFL during his freshman season in 2018… Made his first career interception on Oct. 13, 2018 vs. Butler and returned it 25 yards with 5:26 left in the fourth quarter, providing the final dagger as Valpo won the Hoosier Helmet rivalry game 35-17… Made his second career pick in Week 1 this season against Eastern Kentucky… Native of Valparaiso and graduate of Valparaiso High School.
- CB Kohlton Sherman – Racked up eight tackles in Week 1 at Eastern Kentucky, second on the team.
Specialist Quick Hits – Projected Starters
- K Dimitrios Latsonas, Sr. – Was a 2018 Academic All-PFL Second Team choice after receiving 2017 All-PFL honorable mention… Went 8-of-12 on field-goal tries in 2018, converting 36 of his 37 PAT attempts, shattering his own record for made extra points in a single season after previously setting the school record with 35 in 2017… Averaged 55.9 yards per kick on kickoffs and booted 13 touchbacks… Made a 50-yard field goal in the team’s season finale at Stetson, outdoing his previous personal best of 44 and converting the longest field goal in the PFL in 2018. It was the longest field goal by a Valpo kicker since 2003… Enters this week with 76 career PATs, only seven away from tying and eight from breaking the career program record.
- P Benjamin Niesner, Jr. – Joins the team as a transfer after spending the last two seasons at Portland State, where he earned the starting role at punter… Averaged 38.5 yards per punt while booting rugby-style kicks… Didn’t begin teaching himself how to punt until after his senior year of high school… Before his first year at Portland State in 2017, hadn’t played football in his life except a brief stint of youth football.
Preseason Accolades: Jamari Booker was selected to the Preseason All-PFL team, while five Valpo players were named to Phil Steele’s Preseason All-PFL Team, led by first teamer Austin Petrie. Jack Jarnigan, James Reed and Jamari Booker were second-team choices, while Dimitrios Latsonas was named to the third team.
Oh Captain, My Captain: Valparaiso enters the 2019 season with four captains: quarterback Jimmy Seewald, offensive lineman Jack Jarnigan, linebacker Nick Turner and defensive back Jamari Booker. Seewald and Turner are in their second season as team captains, while Jarnigan and Booker occupy the role for the first time.