The Valparaiso University football program raced out to a 13-0 first-quarter lead that stood as the halftime score against rival Butler on Saturday afternoon at Brown Field, but the visiting Bulldogs roared from behind to erase a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Beacons 26-25 in the latest installment of the Hoosier Helmet rivalry series. Valpo entered the game with its best start to Pioneer Football League play since 2003 before suffering a heartbreaking setback for the team’s first league defeat of 2022.
How It Happened
- After receiving the opening kickoff, Valpo needed just four plays and 76 yards to jump out to the early lead. Michael Appel Jr. (Springboro, Ohio / Springboro) connected with Barret Labus (Wadsworth, Ohio / Wadsworth) on a pass that went for 48 yards on the first play from scrimmage before the Valpo quarterback later found Matt Ross (Naperville, Ill. / Montini Catholic) for a 13-yard touchdown to make it 7-0 with just over 2:30 elapsed.
- The Valpo defense forced a punt on Butler’s first drive, then the Beacons marched 80 yards on six plays to quickly go up two scores. Quarterback Mason Kaplan (Peachtree Corners, Ga. / Norcross) capped the drive with a 15-yard touchdown toss to his high school teammate Jahni Clarke (Norcross, Ga. / Norcross) to make it 13-0 with 6:02 left in the first quarter. The extra point was blocked.
- The defense came up with a key stop on fourth-and-1 with Ben Hines (Snohomish, Wash. / Archbishop Murphy [Washington]) receiving credit for the tackle, causing the guests to turn the ball over on downs at the Valpo 33.
- The Beacons missed a 38-yard field goal try early in the second quarter, and the score remained 13-0. That would stay the score into halftime as neither team cracked the scoreboard in the second stanza, a period that included Butler’s second turnover on downs of the day, this time on fourth-and-2 from the Valpo 35.
- The Bulldogs received the second-half kickoff and came away with points on the half’s opening possession. A 35-yard field goal got the visitors on the board. After a Valpo three-and-out, the defense came up with a third-and-goal stop to force Butler to again settle for three. The 22-yard field goal sailed through the uprights to make it a one-score game at 13-6 with 3:38 left of third-quarter time.
- Kaplan found Ross for a 46-yard connection on the ensuing Valpo drive, and later Kaplan scampered into the end zone for a 3-yard TD run to up the lead to 13 at 19-6 with 12 seconds left in the third. The PAT was once again blocked by the Bulldogs.
- A 50-yard TD pass helped Butler respond to make it 19-13 with 13:02 to go in the fourth.
- Valpo faced second-and-13 from its own 1-yard line when Aaron Dawson (Westbury, N.Y. / W.T. Clarke / Milford Prep [Central Connecticut]) broke free for a 99-yard scoring run to up the lead to 12. After a false start penalty backed up the point after try, Valpo went for two unsuccessfully, so the score remained 25-13.
- Butler embarked on a 12-play, 68-yard scoring drive to cut the lead to six with 6:30 left in the fourth, but Kurt Kessen (Shelby Township, Mich. / Utica) gave the Bulldogs a taste of their own medicine by blocking the extra point.
- Valpo went three-and-out and was forced to punt from its own end zone. A short kick allowed the Bulldogs to take over at the Valpo 30, and that drive ended with a two-yard, game-tying touchdown run. The PAT was good to give the guests their first lead of the game at 26-25 with 1:45 to go.
- Kaplan found Ross for 19 yards and connected with Solomon Davis (Brighton, Tenn. / Brighton) for a pair of big grabs that went for 13 and 12 yards on the ensuing drive. The second of those Davis catches came on fourth-and-7 and set up first down at the Butler 31. Following an incomplete pass, the Bulldogs came up with a game-ending interception.
Inside the Game
- Dawson tied an FCS record for the longest play of all time with his 99-yard TD rush. He became the 16th FCS player ever and second this season with a 99-yard play. He tied Monmouth’s Owen Wright for the longest running play in the nation this year.
- In addition, Dawson’s 99 yarder shattered a Valpo record for longest scoring run from scrimmage of 86 yards that was set by Joe Pahr way back on Oct. 8, 1949 vs. Saint Joseph’s.
- Dawson tied with John Unger for the longest offensive play from scrimmage in program history. Unger’s record, which came on a pass from Rob Rayl, had stood since Sept. 12, 1992 at Hillsdale.
- Dawson shattered the Pioneer Football League record for longest rushing play. The previous mark was set against Valpo by Marist’s Max Jacques on Oct. 27, 2012, a 96-yard carry.
- Dawson ran for upwards of 150 yards for the second straight week, totaling 158 on 14 carries to go along with the aforementioned touchdown, his fourth of the season.
- This was Valpo’s first one-point loss since Oct. 25, 2014, a 48-47 defeat at Morehead State. The team’s last one-point game before Saturday was a 20-19 win over San Diego on April 17, 2021.
- In Valpo’s last 21 games, 12 have been decided by seven points or fewer. The Beacons fell to 6-6 in those one-score affairs. This season, four of the team’s six contests have been decided by seven points or fewer.
- This was the first Valpo/Butler matchup decided by a single point since Nov. 3, 1984, a 28-27 win for the Bulldogs in Indianapolis.
- Kaplan’s rushing score was his third of the year, while his passing touchdown was his sixth. Appel notched his fourth TD pass of the year. Kaplan finished the game 10-of-14 for 135 yards, while Appel went 7-of-12 for 133 yards.
- Davis had a career-high seven receptions for 73 yards, notching the most catches by a Valpo player this season. Ross led the way in receiving yards with 78 on his three grabs while garnering his third TD catch of the season and the fourth of his career. His 46-yard reception marked a career long and was the longest pass completed by Kaplan this season.
- Clarke snagged the first receiving TD of his collegiate career and his second total score.
- Defensively, Max Franco (La Habra, Calif. / La Habra) totaled a career-high 12 tackles to lead the team, while James Doerer (Grosse Pointe, Mich. / Grosse Pointe South) and Hines reached double figures with 10 apiece.
- Kessen provided Valpo’s first blocked kick of the year after the Beacons led the nation with nine blocked kicks last season. This marked the second block of Kessen’s career as he also turned away a PAT in the Nov. 20 season finale vs. Morehead State last fall.
- Valpo outgained Butler in rushing yards (179-167), passing yards (268-259) and total offense (447-426).
Postgame Press Conference
Click here for postgame press conference.
Valpo (3-3, 2-1 PFL) will attempt to bounce back next week in a game at Morehead State that will kick off at 1 p.m. CT on ESPN+. Links to live video, audio and stats will be available on ValpoAthletics.com.