The Valparaiso University football program concluded a challenging nonconference schedule on Saturday, falling 35-13 in a road game against defending Ivy League champion and preseason favorite Dartmouth at Memorial Field in Hanover, N.H. Valpo moved the ball effectively throughout the game and totaled 263 yards of offense, but a powerful Big Green rushing attack helped the hosts emerge victorious in a game that was closer than the final score would indicate.
How It Happened
- Valpo moved the sticks on third down on its opening possession as quarterback Michael Appel Jr. (Springboro, Ohio / Springboro) connected with tight end Evan Jernegan (Altadena, Calif. / St. Francis) for a 17-yard gain. That drive eventually resulted in a punt, but Dartmouth took over deep in its own territory.
- The Big Green orchestrated a 13-play, 88-yard touchdown march on their first possession of the afternoon, culminating with a 1-yard TD plunge with 3:33 remaining of first-quarter time to start the game’s scoring.
- With help from a Dartmouth penalty on the kickoff, Valpo took over with solid field position on the ensuing drive. Aaron Dawson (Kingsport, Tenn. / Dobyns Bennett [East Tennessee State]) had a 12-yard run and a 13-yard catch in succession, providing a lift on a sequence that culminated with a 39-yard field goal by Brian Bartholomew (Sugar Grove, Ill. / Kaneland) that made it 7-3.
- A 24-yard rush and 42-yard pass accounted for the two big plays on a quick five-play, 75-yard scoring drive for the Big Green that made it 14-3 with 12:42 left in the second quarter.
- The Beacons once again put together a solid offensive drive, a series that was aided by a pass interference flag against the Big Green. Mason Kaplan (Peachtree Corners, Ga.) entered the game and had a 7-yard run for a first down, then Dawson broke the plane of the end zone from 2 yards out to make it a 14-10 game with 8:34 left in the second.
- Three key penalties against the Beacons came in succession on the next Dartmouth drive, which resulted in an 8-yard TD run to make it 21-10 with 6:30 left in the half. The two teams exchanged punts, and that remained the score going into the locker room.
- The Valpo defense got a key stop on the first drive of the second half, then the offense once again moved the ball effectively, but settled for three points after a 16-play, 70-yard drive. Bartholomew’s 37-yard field goal try boomed through the uprights and made it 21-13. Braden Contreras (Hillsdale, Ill. / Hinsdale Central), Jahni Clarke (Norcross, Ga. / Norcross), Barret Labus (Wadsworth, Ohio / Wadsworth) and Jernegan all caught passes on a drive highlighted by Jernegan’s 18-yard snag.
- The Big Green responded by going 75 yards on seven plays as part of a drive that finished with a 5-yard TD run and made it 28-13.
- Jernegan once again had a big catch on Valpo’s next drive, this one for 31 yards, and Dom Grguric (Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio / Walsh Jesuit) added a 17-yard snag on the final play of the third quarter. Valpo had first-and-goal from the 5-yard line early in the fourth, but couldn’t find pay dirt and turned it over on downs after an incomplete pass on fourth-and-goal.
- The defense came up with a potential momentum-changing play a moment later. After an errant snap by the Big Green, Max Franco (La Habra, Calif. / La Habra) was able to beat the Dartmouth quarterback to the football and recover the fumble, accounting for the game’s first turnover and setting the Beacons up at the Dartmouth 11-yard line.
- Once again, Valpo couldn’t cash in on the goal-line opportunity, as they turned it over on downs on 4th-and-4 from the 5 with 8:43 to play.
- Dartmouth added a 12-play, 95-yard drive, scoring the final touchdown in the closing seconds to account for the 35-13 final.
Inside the Game
- Linebacker James Doerer (Grosse Pointe, Mich. / Grosse Pointe South) racked up a career-high 15 tackles and now has 26 for the season, second on the team.
- Prior to last week, there had been just one performance of 15 tackles or more by a Valpo player during the Landon Fox Era (Jamari Booker 21 at Davidson in 2019). Now, Ben Hines (Snohomish, Wash. / Archbishop Murphy [Washington]) and Doerer have reached the 15-tackle threshold in consecutive weeks.
- Kohlton Sherman (Millington, Mich. / Millington) had nine tackles while Hines contributed eight.
- Appel completed 21 of his 35 pass attempts, racking up 189 yards through the air. He once again found a variety of targets, completing passes to nine different Beacons. Jernegan (65 yards) and Labus (26 yards) led the team with four catches apiece.
- Jernegan has a team-high 116 receiving yards this season as a tight end, while Labus leads the team in receptions with 10 as a running back. Six Valpo players have six receptions or more through three games this season.
- Vercher had four kickoff returns for 112 yards including a long of 48. Elsewhere in special teams, Bartholomew averaged 53.3 yards per kick on four boots including a pair of touchbacks, went 2-for-2 on field goals and made his only PAT try. Evan Matthes (Reston, Va. / South Lakes [West Virginia]) pinned each of his two punts inside the 20.
- The 21 pass completions represented the team’s highest total of the season.
- Dartmouth made the only turnover of the game as the Beacons played turnover-free football for the second time in the first three weeks of the season.
- Penalties were a bugaboo for the Beacons this week, as they committed a season-high 11 for 113 yards. Dartmouth ran for over 300 yards, averaging 6.8 yards per carry and scoring five rushing touchdowns.
- Dawson’s touchdown was his first in a Valpo uniform. He had two last season while playing for Central Connecticut State.
- The fumble recovery for Franco was the first of his career.
- Bartholomew’s field goals helped him improve to 23-of-29 in his career and 4-for-5 this season.
Thoughts From Head Coach Landon Fox
“They were able to physically control the line of scrimmage and run the football. When we go back and watch film, I think we’ll find that some of that was very self-inflicted on our part with gap control and doing our job. That made it worse than it could have been, but give credit to them, they took advantage of it. The inability to stop the run was a big factor in the game. With that being said, we hung in there and had the ball twice in the red zone with a chance to make it a one-score game late. Our guys continued to fight and scratch and claw to make it a game, but when it comes down to it, the inability to stop the run and force third downs made it difficult to win.”
“Everything Dartmouth does is really solid, and that’s what wins. Fundamentals and techniques are what wins, and that shows in everything they do. They’re a very talented football team, and they’re well coached on top of it.”
Valpo (1-2) will open Pioneer Football League play on Homecoming Saturday at Brown Field. The game will kick off at noon and will be broadcast on ESPN3. For ticket information, visit valpoathletics.com/tickets.