The Valparaiso University football program recognized 25 seniors in a pregame ceremony on Saturday afternoon at Brown Field. Those festivities gave way to a 51-38 setback in a high-scoring battle with Morehead State that wrapped up the Fall 2021 campaign. The season featured a number of highlights and achievements as Valpo (4-7, 4-4) boasted a Pioneer Football League record of .500 or better for the second straight season and went a combined 8-6 in PFL action during the calendar year of 2021.
How It Happened
- Morehead State had the ball first and cashed in with a touchdown drive that was capped by a 33-yard reception by DeVonte Adams on a pass from Mark Pappas. After a three-and-out on Valpo’s opening possession, the Eagles went 78 yards on 10 plays including a James Louis 3-yard TD run to go up 14-0.
- Valpo got on the board with a Brian Bartholomew (Sugar Grove, Ill. / Kaneland) field goal from 21 yards out with 3:40 remaining in the opening quarter.
- The Beacons drove into the red zone early in the second quarter, but a Morehead State interception snuffed out the drive. Morehead State’s Issiah Aguero rushed for a 7-yard TD to make it 21-3 with 10:38 to go in the first half.
- Valpo found the end zone for the first time with 5:48 left in the second quarter as Ben Nimz completed a 12-yard pass to Connor Hebbeler (Franklin Lakes, N.J. / Bergen Catholic [Wake Forest]) to trim the lead to 11 and cap a 73-yard drive. On the ensuing possession, Morehead State had fourth-and-2 on the Valpo 4, but Jaxon Peifer (Normal, Ill. / Normal Community) notched a tackle for loss to force a turnover on downs. The score remained 21-10 at the break.
- Pappas connected with Adams for a 12-yard score early in the third, but the PAT was blocked by Kurt Kessen (Shelby Township, Mich. / Utica) to keep Valpo within 17 at 27-10. The Beacons responded with a seven-play, 64-yard drive that featured a pair of big runs by Robert Washington (Huntersville, N.C. / East Gaston [Old Dominion]). Nick Orekoya (Billerica, Mass. / Everett [Massachusetts]) poked it in from a yard out to make it 27-17.
- On the second play of the ensuing drive, Adams had his third TD catch of the game, this time for 57 yards to make it 34-17. Valpo had the ball in the red zone, but lost a fumble. Morehead State missed a 26-yard field goal, but the next Valpo drive resulted in an interception returned for an MSU touchdown to bolster their lead to 41-17 with 8:04 to go in the fourth.
- The Beacons had a pick six of their own courtesy of Nathan Orlandini (Columbus, Ohio / Upper Arlington), whose 20-yard return made it 41-23 before a failed 2-point try.
- The Eagles tacked on a 35-yard field goal with 4:10 on the clock, then Nimz threw a 17-yard TD pass to Ollie Reese (Franklin, Tenn. / Battle Ground) to make it 44-30 with 3:06 remaining. Morehead State added their second pick six of the day with 1:22 to play. Washington scored on a 1-yard run with no time on the clock, then Washington hauled in a two-point conversion pass from Nimz on the final play of the season to account for the final score of 51-38.
Inside the Game
- By rushing for 159 yards on 33 carries, Washington finished the season with 1,105 rushing yards. His total is the second-highest in program history behind 1,358 by Jeff Horton in 2005. Washington became just the third 1,000-yard rusher in Valpo history on Saturday, joining Horton and Dave Newnam (1,009; 1977).
- Washington’s 159-yard output was his 10th 100-yard rushing game in Valpo uniform in just 17 contests. He finished with 1,758 career rushing yards, a total that ranks ninth in program history despite playing just two seasons, one of which was shortened to six games.
- By virtue of his TD run on Saturday, Washington finished the season with 14 rushing scores. That tied the program record for single-season rushing TDs, joining Dave Newnam’s 1977 season. The total ranks fourth in program history for single-season total touchdowns and marked the most total TDs by a Valpo player in a single season since 2003.
- As a team, Valpo rushed for 223 yards to finish the season at 1,567. Orekoya added 72 yards on seven carries and one TD to Washington’s effort. Orekoya’s TD was his sixth of the season.
- By rushing for two TDs on Saturday, Valpo finished the season with 23 rushing TDs, the third most in program history and most since 1971.
- Nimz went 19-of-32 through the air while tossing two TDs. Three Beacons had over 50 receiving yards, led by Jordan Bingham (Indianapolis, Ind. / North Central) with 57. Reese had a team-high five catches for 56 yards while Washington also accrued 52 yards through the air.
- After having played turnover-free football in each of its previous four games, Valpo was plagued by four giveaways in Saturday’s season finale.
- Bartholomew made his only field-goal attempt of the day and went 3-for-3 on PATs. His field goal allowed him to finish tied for second in single-season program history with 12. He also cracked the program record book by finishing the season with 32 made PATs, a total that usurped Jacob Newman’s 30 (2014) for fifth all-time.
- Punter Ben Niesner (Black Diamond, Wash. / Tahoma [Portland State]) averaged 46.3 yards per attempt over three kicks with a long of 53 to close the season with a punting average of 43.2. That ranks third in program history, behind the first-place tie between Greg Wood (43.6, 2010) and Niesner himself (43.6, Spring 2021).
- Playing in his 44th and final career game, Orlandini made his first career interception, which resulted in the first career touchdown for the 6-foot-2, 270-pound defensive lineman.
- Speaking of the defensive line, Valpo racked up eight tackles for loss to finish the season with 79. That total ranks second in program history, surpassing the 2007 mark of 78 and behind only the 1984 record of 94.
- Tre Purty (Maryville, Tenn. / Maryville [East Tennessee State]) had another huge day, accruing a career-high 10 tackles including 4.5 TFL. This marks the second time in three weeks that he’s had 4.5 TFL or more in a single game. Purty finished the season with 14.5 TFL, a mark that ranks seventh in single-season program history.
- Austin Chilton (Windermere, Fla. / West Orange) paced the team with 11 tackles including seven solos while also forcing a fumble and earning 1.5 TFL. Six Beacons had eight tackles or more, including Peifer, who returned from an injury to play in his final collegiate game and racked up eight stops.
- Kessen’s blocked kick was the first of his career and the ninth by Valpo this season, the second-most in single-season program history. The nine blocks will allow Valpo to finish the season as the national leader.
- Chuck Maxwell (Elkhart, Ind. / Elkhart Christian Academy) had 141 kickoff return yards with a long of 57, averaging 28.2 yards per return.
- Valpo scored 38 points or more for the third consecutive week and finished the season with 298 points, the fifth-most in single-season program history. This marked Valpo’s highest single-season point total since 2017 and second-highest since 2003.
- Hebbeler’s TD catch was his team-high third of the season, while Reese notched his second of the season and the seventh of his career.