For fans of the Valparaiso University football program, few sentences sound sweeter: Valpo defeated Butler on Saturday in Indianapolis.
The Brown & Gold opened a unique spring season with a 24-14 victory over the arch rivalry Bulldogs on a day where positives were plentiful on both sides of the ball. Robert Washington (Huntersville, N.C. / East Gaston [Old Dominion]) ran for nearly 200 yards to pace the offense, while the defense locked in following an early Butler scoring drive, forcing a pair of turnovers to highlight a quality showing.
How It Happened
- The Bulldogs marched down field for a 10-play, 75-yard scoring drive to strike first, a drive that culminated with a 3-yard touchdown rush by quarterback Nick Orlando. Valpo punted on the opening possession, the first of two Valpo first-quarter punts as the team faced early adversity. However, the tide began to turn in Valpo’s favor when the second quarter got underway.
- Early in the second stanza, Butler went for it on fourth-and-7 from the Valpo 31 and the Brown & Gold came up with the key stop, forcing an incomplete pass. That set up an eight-play, 69-yard scoring drive that featured a heavy dose of Washington. The Valpo running back had five carries on the possession, including a 7-yard scoring run to tie the game at seven. His longest rush of the drive went for 23 yards.
- Butler moved the ball into Valpo territory, but the Valpo defense forced its first turnover of the day when Jaxon Peifer (Normal, Ill. / Normal Community) forced a fumble and freshman Keyon Turner (Chicago, Ill. / Marist) came up with the recovery and returned it 35 yards to the Butler 30.
- After four Washington carries, Valpo faced third-and-8 from the Butler 15 and took timeout with six seconds left in the second quarter. Quarterback Chris Duncan (Woodland Hills, Calif. / Woodland Hills-Taft) connected with Deuce Larose (Fort Lauderdale, Fla. / Cardinal Gibbons) for a 15-yard strike, a quality throw and catch as the final seconds of first-half time ticked off the clock. The connection gave Valpo the momentum plus a 14-7 lead heading into halftime.
- The Brown & Gold received the second-half kickoff, and Washington broke off a 49-yard return. The second half started much like the first half ended, in favorable fashion for Valpo. However, the guests couldn’t cash in on the quality field position as the drive ended with Washington coming up a yard short on a fourth-and-4 carry, and Valpo turning it over on downs.
- Butler responded to level the score at 14 with a 10-play, 60-yard drive that finished with Orlando dancing into the end zone from a yard out. That drive featured a heavy dose of Butler running back Kavon Samuels.
- Duncan found Larose for a 26-yard gain to begin the next Valpo possession, then a series of Washington carries set up first-and-goal. Three carries netted 1 yard in the goal-to-go set of downs, and Landon Fox elected to take the points by sending his field-goal unit onto the field. Brian Bartholomew (Sugar Grove, Ill. / Kaneland) booted one through the uprights from 19 yards out to put Valpo ahead 17-14.
- Butler turned it over on downs early in the fourth quarter, then Duncan floated a pass on the money to Holden Hodge (Zionsville, Ind. / Zionsville Community [Taylor]) for the Taylor transfer’s first Valpo reception, which went for 20 yards and a touchdown to expand the lead to 10.
- Another transfer made a big play on the ensuing Butler possession as Anthony Sciarroni (Columbus, Ohio / St. Francis DeSales [Alderson Broaddus at Findlay) snagged an interception at the Valpo 35-yard line, the second turnover of the day for the Valpo defense. That allowed the Brown & Gold to run clock, taking up 7:05 on a 14-play, 45-yard drive. Butler took over on downs with 32 seconds remaining, and time expired to give Valpo the win in the latest edition of the long-standing rivalry.
Inside the Game
- Washington was two carries away from matching Valpo’s single-game record of 41, which was set by Jeff Horton on Oct. 15, 2005 at Butler. His 199 rushing yards were the most by a Valpo player in a single game since Jake Hutson had 248 on Nov. 2, 2012 at Campbell.
- Duncan went 8-of-13 through the air for 85 yards and two touchdowns. He lifted his career total to 28 touchdown passes and pushed his career total to 3,810 passing yards.
- Peifer’s forced fumble was the third of his Valpo career after he was credited with a pair during the 2019 season, while Sciarroni notched an interception in his Valpo debut.
- Larose was the team’s leading receiver with three catches for 46 yards including his sixth career touchdown catch. This marks the fourth straight season Larose has had at least one TD grab.
- Valpo defeated Butler for the third time in the last four years. The two teams will meet again in two weeks at Brown Field.
- Valpo started its season with a victory for the first time since 2007, a 28-21 triumph vs. Saint Francis (Ill.). This marked Valpo’s first win in a PFL opener over the last four years, with its most recent win to start league play coming vs. Davidson in 2016 prior to Saturday’s victory.
- Bartholomew knocked the lone field-goal attempt of his Valpo debut through the uprights and went 3-for-3 on extra-point tries.
- David Hebda (Brighton, Mich. / Gabriel Richard) paced the team with a career-high 11 tackles including four solos, outdoing his previous personal best of six tackles. Peifer registered eight tackles, while Turner had six including a TFL, a pass breakup and the aforementioned fumble recovery in his collegiate debut.
- Valpo outrushed Butler by a 241-139 count leading to a 326-282 advantage in total offense. The 241 rushing yards marked Valpo’s most since a 299-yard rushing day on Oct. 12, 2019 vs. Dayton.
- The 10-point margin of victory was Valpo’s largest in a game at Butler since Oct. 15, 2005 (W 34-21). The 14 points were the fewest Valpo has allowed in a game at Butler since a 10-0 loss on Oct. 9, 1993.
Thoughts from Head Coach Landon Fox
“Any time you get a win, it’s a big deal. It’s hard to get those, so we’re pleased with our football team. This is the culmination of the work that our players have put in on and off the field. I’m proud of their ability to stick together when we fell behind early. I thought it was a good team victory. We’ve handled adversity off the field facing COVID-19 and having our fall season postponed, and now we’ve faced adversity on the field coming back to win this one. Winning a rivalry game is significant for our players and it’s significant for the players who came before them.”
“Early on, we were getting used to the speed of the game. We settled in and executed the game plan better after the first quarter. The nice thing for us as coaches is that there are things that we still have a chance to do a lot better, so we know what we need to improve on going forward.”
“Quite a few freshmen and redshirt freshmen contributed on both sides of the ball. We’re excited for those guys to be on the field and get a chance to play this spring. Keyon Turner is a smart football player and understands the game very well, so it was good to see him make plays for us today.”
“We’re excited about our depth and size on the offensive line. We put a lot of emphasis on linemen and winning the battles up front. The play of the line is important to our team, and we were excited to put eight or nine linemen on the field in certain packages today. The offensive line did a great job creating holes.”
“Robert Washington was a big part of this win today. We didn’t over-complicate things and handed the ball to a very good football player. The thing that I like is that Robert is not only a good football player, but his approach encompasses everything we want from players in our program.”
Valpo (1-0) will host Drake on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Brown Field. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3/+ with links to live video, audio and stats available on ValpoAthletics.com.