The Valparaiso University football team wrapped up Year 1 under head coach Landon Fox with a 26-14 home defeat to Marist on Saturday afternoon at Brown Field. The game was closer than the final score would indicate, as Valpo trailed by five and had a chance to take the lead in the final minute before a pick six sealed the win for the Red Foxes. Valpo recognized its 18-member senior class prior to the game.
How It Happened
- The Valpo defense forced a three-and-out on Marist’s opening possession, but the next time that unit took the field it did so with its back against the wall. A 34-yard punt return allowed the Red Foxes to take over on the Valpo 16.
- The guests quickly took advantage of the glittering field position as Hunter Cobb’s 16-yard run started the scoring with 9:56 left in the first as the Red Foxes went up 7-0.
- The Valpo defense was again put in a challenging situation when Marist’s next drive started from the Valpo 27 after an errant snap on a Valpo punt led to a large loss. However, the defense got three straight stops, then forced a 46-yard field goal try that was missed with 6:53 left in the first quarter.
- Marist (4-7, 4-4 PFL) was pinned deep in its own territory to start its next drive, but 12 plays and 76 yards later, kicker Luke Paladino sneaked one inside the right upright for a 28-yard field goal that put the Red Foxes ahead 10-0 with 13:45 to go in the second quarter.
- The Valpo defense bent but didn’t break yet again with 8:57 left in the second quarter, forcing the Red Foxes into a 43-yard field goal try that sailed wide right.
- Hunter Cobb broke off a 60-yard TD run for Marist’s biggest offensive play of the day, then Valpo junior Drew Gedrys (McDonald, Penn. / South Fayette) blocked the PAT to keep it 16-0 with 5:42 left in the second quarter. On the ensuing Valpo possession, a 59-yard kick return by Jamari Booker (Kentwood, Mich. / East Kentwood) set up good field position. The drive ended when Valpo attempted a fake field goal on 4th-and-3 from the Marist 29, but couldn’t convert.
- After the Valpo defense put together another stop that saw Marist go backward 13 yards over four plays, Valpo took over on its own 40 with 2:38 to go in the first half, down 16-0. That set up a seven-play, 40-yard drive that ended with quarterback Chris Duncan (Woodland Hills, Calif. / Woodland-Hills Taft) finding senior JD Koehler (St. Charles, Mo. / Francis Howell) in the left corner of the end zone for a 3-yard TD pass. A Duncan to Brett Bittner (Chicago, Ill. / St. Laurence) two-point play followed, and in one swoop Valpo had reduced the lead in half at 16-8 at halftime. Valpo stayed in it despite rushing for minus-35 yards in the opening half.
- The Red Foxes turned it over as Booker snagged a tipped pass for a senior-day interception, setting up Valpo from its own 21 and snuffing out Marist’s first drive of the second half.
- Valpo (1-11, 1-7 PFL) moved the ball on the final possession of the third quarter on a drive that was highlighted by a 30-yard connection from Duncan to Deuce Larose (Fort Lauderdale, Fla. / Cardinal Gibbons). However, the drive ended with a missed field goal on the final play of the quarter, and it remained a 16-8 Marist lead through three.
- Valpo needed only four plays to put together a 64-yard scoring drive. The first play of the drive was an impressive 51-yard heave from Duncan to Larose, then Duncan lofted one to Ollie Reese (Franklin, Tenn. / Battle Ground) for the nine-yard score. The potential game-tying two-point try was picked off, keeping Marist in front 16-14 with 7:28 left in the fourth quarter.
- The Red Foxes tacked on a 37-yard field goal by Paladino with 2:40 left in the fourth quarter to boost their lead to 19-14.
- Valpo was driving in the final two minutes with a chance to score and win, but Marist sealed the victory as Andrew McElroy had a 90-yard interception return for a touchdown to make it 26-14 with 20 seconds remaining. That came on a 1st-and-10 from the Marist 11-yard line with Valpo knocking on the door.
Inside the Game
- Koehler, a fifth-year senior, had his first career TD grab on Senior Day. Meanwhile, Duncan’s pass to Koehler was the QB’s 25th career passing score.
- Later in the game, Duncan found Reese for career TD toss No. 26, Reese’s team-high fifth touchdown reception of the season.
- Booker averaged 31 yards per return on four kickoff returns.
- Booker’s interception was his fifth of the season and the eighth of his career.
- Bittner’s grab on the 2-point play was his second of the season. It also accounted for Valpo’s second successful conversion of the year.
- Booker had six tackles including 1.5 TFL to cross the 100-tackle plateau for the year, finishing at 101. Booker wrapped up his career with 235 tackles.
- Trey Psota (Bay Village, Ohio / Bay) was the team’s leading tackler with nine.
- Duncan went 17-of-43 for 232 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in the season finale. He finished the season with 3,725 career passing yards, a mark that ranks eighth in program history.
- Larose, Reese and Koehler shared the team lead with four receptions apiece in Saturday’s game. Larose led the way with 90 receiving yards. He finished the season with three straight games with 90 receiving yards or more.