The first Valparaiso University football home night game in eight years delivered in a big way on Saturday night at Brown Field.
A large and engaged audience witnessed the compelling ending that it deserved as Brian Bartholomew (Sugar Grove, Ill. / Kaneland) drilled a career-long 50-yard field goal in the final two minutes to propel Valpo past Indiana Wesleyan 20-17. The Beacons avenged an 18-point setback to the Wildcats in last year’s season opener.
How It Happened
- Valpo notched a sack on fourth-and-goal from the 4-yard line to force Indiana Wesleyan to settle for a field goal on the opening drive of the game. The Beacons responded with three points of their own as Bartholomew capped an 11-play, 53-yard drive by splitting the uprights from 30 yards out.
- The hosts took their first lead of the game early in the second quarter as starting quarterback Michael Appel Jr. (Springboro, Ohio / Springboro) completed a 58-yard touchdown pass to Solomon Davis (Brighton, Tenn. / Brighton) to make it 10-3.
- After forcing an Indiana Wesleyan punt, Valpo doubled the lead with a quick five-play, 44-yard scoring drive. That drive was capped by Mason Kaplan (Peachtree Corners, Ga. / Norcross) racing for 20 yards into the end zone for his first career score.
- Both defenses stood tall for the remainder of the quarter, and the score stood at 17-3 at halftime.
- Indiana Wesleyan got back in the game on its first possession of the second half, using a big play on third-and-long to find pay dirt and make it 17-10.
- A crucial play in the game came with the Wildcats driving midway through the fourth quarter. Kevin Spelman (New Lenox, Ill. / Providence Catholic) forced a fumble and James Doerer (Grosse Pointe, Mich. / Grosse Pointe South) made the recovery to keep the 17-10 lead intact as Valpo took over.
- The Wildcats did get even on the next possession, after a big punt return set up a short field. An 8-yard TD rush made it 17-all.
- Kaplan connected with Evan Jernegan (Altadena, Calif. / St. Francis) for a key 17-yard gain, setting up the 50-yard field goal by Bartholomew that gave Valpo a 20-17 lead with 1:36 to play.
- Sam Hafner (Green Bay, Wis. / De Pere) had a key sack on the ensuing possession, and the Valpo defense forced Indiana Wesleyan into a 54-yard field goal try in the closing seconds. That attempt to send the game to overtime came up short, instead sending the Valpo crowd into a celebratory frenzy.
Inside the Game
- Davis’ TD grab was not only his first career score, but also the second reception of his collegiate career. He finished the night with two grabs for 64 yards, while Dom Grguric (Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio / Walsh Jesuit) had a team-high five catches including the first of his collegiate career.
- Aaron Dawson (Westbury, N.Y. / W.T. Clarke / Milford Prep [Central Connecticut]) rushed for 147 yards on 22 carries in his Valpo debut. Valpo outgained Indiana Wesleyan in rushing yards 145-25.
- Bartholomew’s 50-yard field goal represented a new career long. His previous personal best was a 49-yarder during the Spring 2021 season. That one also came at a critical time, as it represented Valpo’s first points of a 10-7 win at Drake. His 50 yarder on Saturday was Valpo’s longest since Dimitrios Latsonas hit from 50 on Nov. 17, 2018 at Stetson.
- Bartholomew went 2-for-2 on field-goal tries, 2-for-2 on extra points and averaged 65.0 yards per kickoff including three touchbacks. He is up to 21 career made field goals.
- Speaking of special teams, Evan Matthes (Reston, Va. / South Lakes [West Virginia]) had a nice night punting the football in his Valpo debut. He averaged 48.1 yards per punt and pinned three inside the 20.
- Appel Jr. went 13-of-20 through the air for 150 yards, while Kaplan completed three of his five passes for 44 yards.
- Keyon Turner (Chicago, Ill. / Marist) posted a career-high 11 tackles, while Hafner was also in double figures with 10. Turner’s top two tackles outputs in his collegiate tenure have both came against Indiana Wesleyan. Hafner entered the contest with just one collegiate tackle.
- The Beacons boasted six sacks and 10 tackles for loss.
- The three-point win continued a trend of close games as Valpo has played nine games decided by seven points or fewer since the start of the Spring 2021 season. In other words, half of the team’s 18 games in that time have come down to one score.
- This marked the first time Valpo opened the season at home since 2012, the first home night game since 2014 and just the fifth home night game in program history.
- Valpo started a fall season with a win for the first time since 2007. The Beacons also started 1-0 during the unusual Spring 2021 season, when they opened the shortened campaign with conference play.
- The victory came over an Indiana Wesleyan team ranked No. 9 in the College Football America NAIA Preseason Top 30 and No. 14 in the NAIA Football FirstDown PlayBook Top 25. They lost just one game last season, although on paper they ended up with three losses due to two games that were retroactively ruled forfeits due to use of an ineligible player.
Postgame Press Conference
Click here for postgame press conference.
Valpo will visit Illinois State next Saturday, Sept. 10 at 6:30 p.m. in Normal, Ill. The game will be broadcast in the Chicago television market on Marquee Sports Network and digitally on ESPN+. Links to live video, audio and stats will be available on ValpoAthletics.com.