The Valparaiso University football team made a statement on Saturday afternoon at Brown Field.
The Beacons are 1-0 in Pioneer Football League play after defeating perennial league powerhouse San Diego 28-21 in front of a large crowd on Homecoming Saturday. Valpo overcame a 14-0 first-half deficit to top the Toreros and give the student body, alumni base and community reason for glowing optimism about what could unfold on the Valpo gridiron in the coming weeks and months.
How It Happened
- The first six possessions of the game all resulted in punts as each team punted on three occasions. It was San Diego that broke through first thanks to two long pass plays, the second of which went for a 26-yard touchdown with 2:47 left in the opening quarter.
- The Toreros found the end zone again on their next possession, a six-play, 80-yard march capped by a 34-yard TD pass with 12:33 remaining in the second quarter.
- After being held scoreless in the opening period, Valpo turned it around on its first possession of the second stanza. A 12-play, 65-yard drive ended with a two-yard scoring plunge by Mason Kaplan (Peachtree Corners, Ga. / Norcross) to slice the lead in half.
- After the defense forced a quick three-and-out, the offense went to work again. A trick play resulted in running back Aaron Dawson (Westbury, N.Y. / W.T. Clarke [Central Connecticut]) throwing an 11-yard TD pass to Barret Labus (Wadsworth, Ohio / Wadsworth) to make it 14-13. Valpo stayed aggressive and went for two, and the pass was completed but shy of the end zone so it remained 14-13 going into halftime.
- The Beacons started the second half with the football and went 75 yards on 11 plays, the last of which was a 2-yard Kaplan pass to Labus for his second score of the day. Freshman Jeffery Vercher (Nashville, Tenn. / Franklin Road Academy) had a 23-yard run for the longest play of the drive. That score put Valpo up 20-14 with 9:03 left in the third.
- The San Diego defense made an interception that could have swung the momentum in favor of the guests as they took over at the Valpo 34 trailing by six in the final minute of the third. However, the Beacon defense stepped up with a crucial three-and-out. Valpo’s next drive resulted in a three-and-out as well, but Evan Matthes (Reston, Va. / South Lakes [West Virginia]) punted a 67-yard missile to pin San Diego on its own 14 and flip the field in Valpo’s favor.
- Kaplan completed a 44-yard TD pass to Solomon Davis (Brighton, Tenn. / Brighton) with 10:09 remaining, and Jernegan tacked on the two-point conversion on a pass from Kaplan to make it 28-14.
- The Valpo defense came up big, forcing a turnover on downs with a 4th-and-3 stop at midfield with 7:38 remaining. The ensuing Valpo drive resulted in a blocked field goal, then San Diego once again turned it over on downs. A fumbled snap by the Beacons helped set up the Toreros in the red zone with 1:55 to play, and a quick 21-yard TD pass sliced the lead in half at 28-21.
- San Diego’s onside kick try was recovered by Keyon Turner (Chicago, Ill. / Marist) to seal the win. After three plays in victory formation, the celebration was on as the singing of the fight song serenaded the crowd and ringing of the Victory Bell echoed through the campus.
Inside the Game
- Davis’ TD catch was his second of the season. Prior to this year, he had one total reception in his first three collegiate seasons. Now, he has 10 receptions including two scores in the first four weeks of the year.
- Davis’ breakthrough day featured five receptions for 118 yards, both team highs. He became the first Valpo player to accrue 100 receiving yards in a game since Braden Contreras also had exactly 118 on Oct. 23, 2021 vs. Dayton.
- Labus became the first Valpo player with two TD receptions in a game since Ollie Reese on Nov. 16, 2019 at Butler. The scoring snags were the second and third of his collegiate career.
- Matt Ross (Naperville, Ill. / Montini Catholic [Eastern Illinois]) added four catches for 60 yards on a day where Valpo gained 229 yards through the air and 110 on the ground. Kaplan ran for one score and threw for two others, going 4-of-6 passing for 102 yards. He now has four passing TDs and two rushing this season. Michael Appel Jr. (Springboro, Ohio / Springboro) went 11-of-23 for 116 yards.
- Dawson ran for 48 yards on 15 carries, while Kaplan accrued 44 on 12 carries. The Valpo defense limited the USD rushing attack to 56 yards on 26 attempts.
- Matthes punted six times for 262 yards, averaging 43.7 yards per punt. He pinned a pair inside the 20 and had a season long of 67. Entering this week’s action, only seven players in the FCS nation had a punt of 67 yards or longer this season.
- Kurt Kessen (Shelby Township, Mich. / Utica) enjoyed a massive day with a career-high 10 tackles to pace the team. Ben Hines (Snohomish, Wash. / Archbishop Murphy [Washington]) contributed seven, while Kevin Spelman (New Lenox, Ill. / Providence Catholic) had a pair of sacks among his four stops. The team accrued seven tackles for loss.
- Entering the Spring 2021 season, Valpo had lost 14 straight head-to-head matchups to San Diego dating back to 2003. Now, the Beacons have won two of three against the Toreros with the lone loss in that stretch coming by just seven points on the road.
- Valpo has now opened PFL play with a victory in three consecutive seasons. This marks the first time since the league was founded in 1993 that Valpo has won three straight PFL openers. The last time the program won the conference opener in three straight seasons was in the Heartland Collegiate Conference from 1985-1987 under head coach Bill Koch.
- This helped Valpo snap a three-game losing streak in Homecoming contests, although all three setbacks during that stretch came by fewer than seven points.
- Valpo moved to 2-0 at home for the first time since 2016, when the home slate started with victories over Trinity International and Davidson.
- This Valpo win snapped a seven-game PFL winning streak for San Diego. The victory came against a program that went 7-1 in PFL play a year ago to earn a share of its PFL-record-tying 12th regular-season title. The Toreros were picked to finish second in this year’s PFL preseason poll and they were the highest projected team on Valpo’s schedule as preseason favorite Davidson does not face the Beacons this season.
- San Diego is 48-4 in its last 52 PFL games dating back to 2015. Two of those four losses have come against Valpo and the other two against Davidson, all in the last three seasons.
- Valpo has now seen 11 of its last 19 games be decided by seven points or fewer, including three of the first four games this season. Valpo is 6-5 in those 11 one-score affairs thanks to Saturday’s victory. Three of those cliffhangers came against San Diego.
Postgame Press Conference
Click here for postgame press conference.
Valpo (2-2, 1-0 PFL) will enjoy a bye week before visiting Presbyterian on Saturday, Oct. 8 at 11 a.m. CT in a game that will air on ESPN+. Links to live video, audio and stats are available on ValpoAthletics.com.