For the first time since 2003, the Valparaiso University football program is 2-0 in Pioneer Football League play.
Thanks to a dominant second-half effort, the Beacons came away with a 41-21 road win at Presbyterian on Saturday afternoon in Clinton, S.C. Valpo outscored Presbyterian 27-0 after halftime including a third quarter where the Beacons outgained the Blue Hose 121-3 to alter the game’s complexion. Through Saturday’s action, Valpo and St. Thomas are the only two teams undefeated in league play as they sit tied atop the PFL standings.
How It Happened
- The Valpo defense forced a punt on Presbyterian’s opening drive, and it was the guests who secured the game’s first score as Michael Appel Jr. (Springboro, Ohio / Springboro) connected with Jake Vickers (Canton, Mich. / Canton) for a 41-yard touchdown to make it 7-0 with 9:25 left in the first quarter.
- After the two teams exchanged punts, the hosts drew even on a 44-yard pass to make it 7-7.
- Early in the second quarter, a Valpo scoring drive featured a pair of third-down conversions as Appel found Braden Contreras (Hillsdale, Ill. / Hinsdale Central) on third-and-3, and later Mason Kaplan (Peachtree, Corners / Norcross) hooked up with Solomon Davis for 16 yards on third-and-9 to set up first-and-goal from the nine. That drive ended with Aaron Dawson (Westbury, N.Y. / W.T. Clarke / Milford Prep [Central Connecticut]) plunging in from a yard out to put Valpo ahead 14-7.
- A screen pass that went for 63 yards was the highlight of a Presbyterian drive that ended with a 10-yard QB keeper for a game-tying touchdown.
- Late in the second quarter, the Blue Hose came up with a sack to force a turnover on downs, setting up a short field that Presbyterian cashed in on with a go-ahead 1-yard TD run by their quarterback to go into the locker room with a 21-14 edge.
- Valpo punted on its first possession of the second half, but the defense came up with a play that flipped the game’s momentum. On Presbyterian’s second offensive snap of the half, Colin Graves (Seattle, Wash. / Bishop Blanchet) made an interception that allowed Valpo to take over at the PC 35-yard line.
- The offense took advantage of the field position, needing only two plays to cover the 35 yards including a 30-yard TD hookup from Appel to Davis to tie the game at 21 with 6:28 to go in the third.
- Valpo forced a punt, then put together a 13-play, 96-yard drive to take the lead, a sequence that culminated with Kaplan connecting with Matt Ross (Naperville, Ill. / Montini Catholic [Eastern Illinois]) for a nine-yard score to go ahead 28-21 with 14:06 left in the fourth.
- Another defensive stop was followed by another long drive by the offense as the Beacons went 75 yards on 10 plays to make it a two-score game at 35-21. The rush-heavy drive finished with a Jahni Clarke (Norcross, Ga. / Norcross) two-yard scoring run with 6:01 left.
- The Valpo defense forced a turnover on downs to all but seal the win, then Dawson added one final exclamation mark with a 60-yard TD run to break it open at 41-21.
- Head coach Landon Fox was able to insert his second-team defense on Presbyterian’s final possession, and that group also forced a turnover on downs.
Inside the Game
- Valpo generated a season-high 463 yards of total offense, outdoing Presbyterian 463-360. The Beacons outrushed the Blue Hose 223-108 while the hosts owned a slight 252-240 edge in passing yards. Valpo moved the sticks 27 times for first downs.
- The Valpo offense was very balanced with 240 passing yards and 223 rushing yards. Both were season highs for the Brown & Gold.
- The 463 yards of total offense was Valpo’s highest total of the Landon Fox Era and highest since Nov. 10, 2018 (465 vs. Jacksonville).
- Valpo played turnover-free football for the third time in five games this season.
- Davis and Ross had five catches apiece with Davis accruing a team-high 75 receiving yards. Davis had his third TD catch of the season (also the third of his career), while Ross pulled down his second of the season and the third of his career.
- Vickers had two grabs for 48 yards on a day where eight Beacons caught passes. He has four career receptions, half of which have gone for TDs including one on Saturday.
- The interception by Graves was the first of his career and the second notched by the Valpo defense this season.
- Appel completed eight of his 11 passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns, while Kaplan went 10-of-14 for 113 yards and one score. Kaplan has passed for five touchdowns this season, while Appel lifted his total to three.
- Dawson went for a season-high 163 rushing yards on 23 carries and twice found paydirt, his second and third rushing scores of the year. Clarke added 42 yards on seven carries including his first career TD.
- Hines paced the team with seven tackles including five solos, while Sam Hafner (Green Bay, Wis. / De Pere) chipped in six.
- The Beacons accrued seven sacks and 10 tackles for loss. The seven sacks tied for the seventh-most in a single game in the FCS nation this season.
- Valpo improved to 2-0 in PFL play for the first time since 2003 and just the fourth time in program history (since the PFL was founded in 1993).
- This represented Valpo’s second most lopsided win of the Landon Fox Era, behind only last year’s 47-3 victory at Butler.
- Kicker Brian Bartholomew (Sugar Grove, Ill. / Kaneland) booted four of his seven kickoffs for touchbacks. He made his first five extra points before his first miss of the year came on his final attempt of the day as he is now 13-of-14 this season. Last year, he went 32-of-33 on PATs and the only miss was from a longer distance due to a penalty.
- Elsewhere on special teams, Evan Matthes (Reston, Va. / South Lakes [West Virginia) averaged 49 yards per punt on his two attempts, while Jeffery Vercher (Nashville, Tenn. / Franklin Road Academy) had two returns for 41 yards.
Thoughts from Head Coach Landon Fox
“There weren’t a ton of adjustments at halftime, we just executed better in the second half. The cool thing that shows how our program has evolved is that we’re the hunted. We’re no longer the team that has to go out and hunt to try to find wins. It’s a whole different mentality, and that’s hard. You have to prepare yourself mentally and physically to play at a high level every week.”
“We settled down defensively and made tackles, and on offense we established an ability to run the ball. That’s what made the difference.”
“We have so many guys who can make plays. Matt Ross, Solomon Davis, Braden Contreras – as a defense I think that would stress you in terms of where your focus is at. You’re going to have to leave some one-on-ones. You can’t double cover multiple guys, so that creates matchups for us.”
“I just told our team how happy I was for our program for being able to get the second unit in at the end of the game. That’s how you become a good program; you get guys who don’t get as much time defensively who normally get some special teams snaps, and then they get to go out there and play in live games. When they have the experience under their belt, they’re ready to go when someone gets injured. That was awesome to see.”
Valpo (3-2, 2-0 PFL) will host a rivalry game next week as Butler comes to Brown Field for the Hoosier Helmet Game beginning at 1 p.m. CT. The contest will air on ESPN3 with links to live video, audio and stats available on ValpoAthletics.com.