The Valparaiso University football team made a valiant comeback effort on Saturday afternoon in Morehead, Ky., but host Morehead State came away with a narrow 28-24 victory after owning a 21-0 first-half lead at Jayne Stadium. Valpo couldn’t complete what would have been the program’s biggest rally since 1995, incurring just its second setback in a season where all five games have been decided by 11 points or fewer.
How It Happened
- The game got off to an unfavorable start for the guests as the Morehead State offense made it look easy on the opening possession, marching 63 yards on five plays for a quick score to go up 7-0.
- Valpo punted on its first two possessions, the second of which led to a big return that set Morehead State up at the Valpo 17-yard line. The defense stood tall, forcing three straight incomplete passes before Trent Miller (Gibsonia, Pa. / Pine-Richland) blocked a 26-yard field goal try to keep it a seven-point deficit.
- Brandon Barbee had a 47-yard interception return for a touchdown to make it 14-0 Eagles with 2:45 left in the first quarter.
- Another Valpo punt and another big return allowed the Morehead State offense to yet again set up shop in Valpo territory. That drive resulted in a one-yard touchdown plunge by QB Mark Pappas, and Morehead State’s lead was 21-0 with 12:25 to go in the half.
- Ben Nimz (Waukesha, Wis. / Catholic Memorial), who was inserted midgame at the quarterback position, helped facilitate a 10-play, 75-yard drive that resulted in Valpo’s first score of the game. Nimz found Robert Washington (Huntersville, N.C. / East Gaston [Old Dominion]) for 14 yards on 3rd-and-4 from the Valpo 41, and later the young quarterback took off for a 20-yard rush. Gabe Lawson (Cranberry Township, Pa. / Seneca Valley) came in and found the end zone on a keeper from 2 yards out to cap the drive and cut the lead to 21-7.
- A stellar three-and-out by the Valpo defense forced a quick punt by Morehead State. Although Valpo’s next drive stalled, Ben Niesner (Black Diamond, Wash. / Tahoma [Portland State]) delivered a 56-yard punt that pinned Morehead State on its own 4.
- The defense put together another three-and-out, setting up a 28-yard punt return by Josh Becton (Kansas City, Kan. / F.L. Schlagle) coupled with a Morehead State personal foul that gave Valpo the ball on the Morehead State 13 late in the second quarter.
- Head coach Landon Fox rolled the dice on 4th-and-4 from the Morehead State 7, and a direct snap to Washington paid dividends in the form of a 5-yard first down run. Washington later barreled into the end zone from a yard out to make it 21-14 going into halftime.
- Valpo received the second-half kickoff and turned that drive into a nine-play, 75-yard scoring possession. Lawson played a critical role, running 7 yards for a first down on 3rd-and-2 and scampering into the end zone from 3 yards out to tie the game at 21 with 9:41 left in the third.
- Another quick drive by Morehead State resulted into a punt, and Valpo appeared to be on the verge of its first lead of the game. Nimz completed a pass to Deuce Larose (Fort Lauderdale, Fla. / Cardinal Gibbons) for an 18-yard pickup, but a fumble at the Morehead State 2-yard line allowed the Eagles to take over.
- Valpo’s next drive resulted in an interception, but then Keyon Turner (Chicago, Ill. / Marist) corralled a tipped pass in the end zone for his weekly turnover. This marked the fifth straight week that the freshman was involved in a key takeaway and the fourth straight week that came in the form of a pick.
- Valpo took over in a tied game with 14:04 left in the fourth, but couldn’t gain any positive yardage on a three-play drive. The Eagles (3-3, 3-2 PFL) responded with a seven-play, 47-yard scoring march that culminated with a 2-yard Pappas to BJ Byrd TD strike to make it 28-21.
- A 56-yard kickoff return by Charlie Maxwell (Elkhart, Ind. / Elkhart Christian Academy) and a 34-yard run by Washington helped Valpo find the red zone on the ensuing possession. However, the team settled for a 21-yard field goal, and kicker Brian Bartholomew (Sugar Grove, Ill. / Kaneland) converted to make it a 28-24 game with 4:33 remaining.
- The Eagles picked up a pair of first downs before being forced to punt, and Valpo took over on its own 10 needing to go 90 yards to win the game.
- Barbee made another pick to account for the fourth turnover forced by the Morehead State defense, sealing the victory for the hosts.
Inside the Game
- Valpo played a third straight game decided by four points or fewer. In addition, Morehead State’s last six victories in the head-to-head series with Valpo have all come by seven points or fewer.
- Turner leads the nation in interceptions among freshmen with four and joins Jamari Booker (2019, 5), Josmar Diaz-Martinez (2016, 5), Kellan Hughes (2015, 4) and Eli Crawford (2009, 4) as the only Valpo players over the last 12 seasons with four or more picks in a single year. Turner is the only freshman in that group, and the other players all had full 10-12 game seasons, while Turner has reached four picks in the first five games of a shortened six-game slate.
- Washington ran for 180 yards on 26 carries, his fourth 100-yard rushing game this season and his highest rushing total since Week 1 at Butler (199). He moved his season total to 621 rushing yards, becoming Valpo’s first 500-yard rusher since Jarrett Morgan finished the 2016 season with 576. Despite the shortened season, Washington owns Valpo’s highest single-season rushing total since Brandon Hall’s 855 yards in 2015.
- Nimz went 7-of-14 through the air for 77 yards as Washington and Deuce Larose (Fort Lauderdale, Fla. / Cardinal Gibbons) paced the team with three receptions apiece. Larose had a team-high 40 receiving yards.
- Valpo outgained the Eagles on the ground 220-63 and is in position to finish the season with more rushing yards than its opponents for the first time since 2007.
- The Brown & Gold held a 308-273 advantage in total offense, but Morehead State won the turnover battle 4-1 on Saturday. Valpo has made six turnovers in its two losses and no turnovers in its three victories.
- Jaxon Peifer (Normal, Ill. / Normal Community) had nine tackles to lead the team and equal his season best, while Turner notched his career high with eight and Austin Chilton (Windermere, Fla. / West Orange) racked up seven after entering the game with none in his collegiate career. Trejuan Purty (Maryville, Tenn. / Maryville [East Tennessee State]) picked up six tackles including 1.5 TFL and a sack.
- Miller’s blocked field goal marked the first blocked kick by Valpo this season after the team blocked five kicks during the 2019 campaign.
- Niesner averaged 44.4 yards per punt over five punts, pinning a pair inside the 20 and booting a long of 56. Bartholomew went 3-for-3 on extra points and 1-for-1 on field goals to improve to 5-of-6 on field goals and 11-of-11 on PATs this season.
- Lawson had a pair of TD runs to lift his season total to three, while Washington’s TD was his fifth on the ground and sixth overall this season.
- Valpo attempted to overcome a 21-point deficit to win for the first time since Sept. 9, 1995, when the team trailed 22-0 at St. Xavier and came back to win 41-30.
Valpo (3-2) will have a chance to nail down a winning season next Saturday, April 17 in the regular season finale at noon CT vs. PFL preseason favorite San Diego at Brown Field. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+/3 and on the Valpo Sports Network (95.1 FM Valparaiso, TuneIn Radio). Links to live video, audio and stats will be available on ValpoAthletics.com.