September 10, 20221st2nd3rd4thFinal
Illinois State7147028
1st Quarter
ILSTD10:05White 35 Yd Pass From Annexstad (Takerian kick)
2nd Quarter
ILSTD12:26Carr (Takerian kick)
ILSTD08:45Annexstad 8 Yd Run (Takerian kick)
3rd Quarter
ILSTD05:47Deming 23 Yd Pass From Annexstad (Takerian kick)
4th Quarter
Stats at a GlanceVALPOILS
1st Downs1916
3rd Down Conversions5-167-14
4th Down Conversions1-20-2
Passing (Comp-Att)191 (18-36) 196 (14-22)
Rushing (Att)65 (42) 129 (38)
Total Yards256325
Fumbles Lost01
Valpo Pushes Full-Scholarship MVFC Opponent to the Brink in Near Upset at Illinois State
Saturday, September 10, 2022
Valpo Pushes Full-Scholarship MVFC Opponent to the Brink in Near Upset at Illinois State
Ben Hines notched a team-high 15 tackles in Saturday's near upset of Illinois State.

They say there are no moral victories, but this is about as close to one as you can come if you’re the Valparaiso University football team.

The mood surrounding the team was one of disappointment following a 28-21 road loss to full-scholarship, Missouri Valley Football Conference opponent Illinois State on Saturday night at Hancock Stadium in Normal, Ill. But once the sting of dropping a game that was close from start to finish wears off, the Beacons can hold their heads high following one of the best performances against a Division-I scholarship opponent in program history.

How It Happened

  • After each team went three-and-out on its opening possession, Illinois State posted the first points of the contest on a five-play, 52-yard drive highlighted by a 35-yard touchdown catch that made it 7-0.
  • The two teams exchanged punts once again, but the Beacons put together a nine-play, 61-yard drive that tied the game. The drive was aided by a pair of Illinois State penalties. That scoring march finished when quarterback Mason Kaplan (Peachtree Corners, Ga. / Norcross) completed an 8-yard TD pass to Matt Ross (Naperville, Ill. / Montini Catholic [Eastern Illinois]) with 1:11 remaining in the first quarter. The PAT was from five yards longer after a false start, but Brian Bartholomew’s (Sugar Grove, Ill. / Kaneland) kick was right on the money none-the-less to make it 7-7.
  • The Valpo defense continued to hold its own on the ensuing possession, forcing a quick three-and-out with Ben Hines (Snohomish, Wash. / Archbishop Murphy [Washington]) in on all three stops. Valpo’s first drive of the second quarter started with a 20-yard pass to Barret Labus (Wadsworth, Ohio / Wadsworth), but the possession stalled out and the Beacons were forced to punt. Evan Matthes (Reston, Va. / South Lakes [West Virginia]) booted one 43 yards that was mishandled by the Illinois State punt returner and Caleb Rao (Liberty Township, Ohio / Lakota West) recovered the fumble in the end zone for a go-ahead touchdown on special teams to put Valpo in front 14-7.
  • The game continued to go haywire as Illinois State instantly responded with a game-tying 98-yard kickoff return for a TD that made it 14-all.
  • An Illinois State drive highlighted by a 47-yard completion resulted in points to make it 21-14 in favor of the hosts after an 8-yard TD run with 8:40 to play in the second quarter.
  • Valpo put together a strong drive late in the half, moving it 45 yards on 13 plays – the longest of which was a 19-yard reception by Jake Vickers (Canton, Mich. / Canton). However, the drive did not result in points as a 40-yard field goal try was blocked.
  • Illinois State tried a long heave on the final play of the first half that was intercepted by Rao.
  • The Illinois State defense made an interception early in the second half, but the Valpo defense forced a turnover on downs on the hosts’ first offensive possession of the half.
  • The Redbirds eventually extended the lead to 28-14 on a 23-yard TD pass. Valpo moved the ball 42 yards on its next possession, but was forced to punt.
  • Illinois State embarked on a run-heavy drive that engulfed 7:50 off the clock but resulted in a missed 37-yard field goal try. That set up Valpo’s 13-play, 80-yard scoring drive that saw five different players catch passes. The final one was a 14-yard TD snag by tight end Evan Jernegan (Altadena, Calif. / St. Francis]) to cut the lead to seven at 28-21 with 2:47 remaining.
  • A roughing the kicker penalty on the PAT allowed Valpo to kick off from midfield, and the Beacons pulled off an onside kick recovery by Austin Chilton at the Illinois State 40, creating an opportunity to tie the game with a last-minute score. However, the Illinois State defense stood tall on that possession, as the drive went backward and resulted in an interception.
  • The game was not over yet as Valpo still had two timeouts. The Valpo defensive front led by Sam Hafner (Green Bay, Wis. / De Pere) and Kurt Kessen (Shelby Township, Mich. / Utica) made a key stop on fourth-and-1 from the Valpo 36, and the Beacons took back over with 39 seconds on the clock. The hope for a late miracle was extinguished by an interception as the Redbirds held on for the seven-point victory.

Inside the Game

  • The near upset came over a team that was receiving votes nationally as Illinois State received 17 votes in this week’s AFCA poll.
  • The game marked a far different story from Valpo’s last visit to Illinois State, a 50-13 loss to open the 2016 season.
  • The Missouri Valley Football Conference, the nation’s top FCS league, entered the week with 28 straight victories against unranked FCS opponents, a streak that Beacons put in jeopardy on Saturday.
  • This was one of the closest games against a Division-I opponent that offers athletic scholarships in program history, behind a five-point loss to Duquesne in 2017 and a two-point loss to Duquesne in 2018.
  • Since the start of the 2010 season, Valpo has played nine games against members of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, and this was far and away the closest contest. Previously, the closest Valpo had come was a 42-7 loss to Youngstown State in 2018 as those eight games came by an average margin of defeat of over 50 points per game.
  • Since the start of the Spring 2021 season, 10 of the program’s 19 games have been decided by seven points or fewer including back-to-back one-score games to start the 2022 campaign.
  • Valpo actually moved the chains more frequently than Illinois State, producing 19 first downs to the Redbirds’ 16. Valpo gained 256 yards of total offense, while moving the ball through the air at nearly the same clip as the hosts, with Illinois State holding a narrow 196-191 edge in passing yards.
  • Valpo displayed an ability to sustain drives offensively and get off the field defensively as the team ran 78 offensive plays to Illinois State’s 60.
  • Rao’s unusual fumble recovery for a TD was his first career score, while his interception was also his first with the Brown & Gold. Jernegan had his first career TD a week after making his first collegiate reception. Ross collected his second career TD grab and first of the season.
  • Hines put up eye-popping tackle numbers with 15 stops, while James Doerer (Grosse Pointe, Mich. / Grosse Pointe South) continued his strong start to the season with seven tackles, six of which were solos. Kurt Kessen, Kevin Spelman (New Lenox, Ill. / Providence Catholic) and Jadarius Horton (Charlotte, N.C. / West Charlotte [Southwestern College]) had six tackles apiece.
  • The 15 tackles by Hines were the most by a Valpo player since Jamari Booker on Nov 2, 2019 at Davidson (21).
  • Nine different Beacons caught passes, led by Labus’ three catches for 48 yards. Ross also had three grabs, totaling 42 receiving yards. Kaplan went 18-of-36 for 191 yards and two scores.  

Thoughts From Head Coach Landon Fox

“We’re disappointed that we lost the football game when we had a chance to win, but one thing I told the team is that I’m proud of their effort and the persistence that we had throughout the game. We showed an ability to not flinch when we were down 28-14. We gave ourselves an opportunity to have the ball late in the game with a chance to tie or win.”

“Ben (Hines) is a really good player. As a coach, I enjoy how intelligent he is. Not only is he a good athlete and a good player, but he understands the schematics of what we’re trying to do. That allows him to be in a lot of positions to make plays.”

Up Next

Valpo (1-1) will close out nonconference play next week with another challenging opponent as the Beacons visit Dartmouth for a 12:30 p.m. kickoff on Saturday in Hanover, N.H. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+.