Close games have become the norm for the Valparaiso University football team.
The Beacons battled back from an early 14-point deficit to take the lead early in the second half, but host Dayton snapped a 24-all deadlock with a go-ahead touchdown in the closing seconds to prevail 31-24 in another Pioneer Football League thriller at Welcome Stadium in Dayton, Ohio. A pair of Valpo receivers accrued over 100 receiving yards for the second straight week and the defense came up with three interceptions, but the Flyers ran for over 300 yards in the victory.
How It Happened
- Valpo played from behind early as Dayton’s first possession was a five-play, 77-yard drive that culminated in an 11-yard touchdown run. The lead doubled on a 30-yard pick six on Valpo’s first offensive possession.
- A key turning point play came with 9:20 left in the first quarter when Valpo faced third-and-nine from its own 33. Quarterback Michael Appel Jr. (Springboro, Ohio / Springboro) completed a 67-yard pass to Solomon Davis (Brighton, Tenn. / Brighton) for a touchdown to get the Beacons on the board at 14-7.
- The Valpo defense got a three-and-out including a sack by James Doerer (Grosse Pointe, Mich. / Grosse Pointe South) on third-and-long. On the first play of the ensuing possession, Appel delivered a strike to Matt Ross (Naperville, Ill. / Montini Catholic [Eastern Illinois]) for a 39-yard gain. Later in the drive, Braden Contreras (Hillsdale, Ill. / Hinsdale Central) got in on the act with a 12-yard TD catch to tie the game at 14 with 4:44 left in an eventful opening quarter.
- After a Valpo defensive stop, the Beacons moved the ball on their first possession of the second stanza. Appel completed big passes to Davis (18 yards) and Contreras (21 yards) to move the ball into the red zone. A 15-yard penalty against Valpo lengthened a field-goal try to 50 yards, and it was no good to keep it 14-14.
- The defense came up with a big play as Kohlton Sherman (Millington, Mich. / Millington) snagged an interception and returned it 34 yards to the Dayton 21. However, Valpo couldn’t capitalize as the Flyers came up with stops on third-and-goal from the 1 and fourth-and-goal from the 1. A Dayton 41-yard field goal late in the half put the Flyers ahead 17-14.
- Valpo took its first lead of the game on a five-play, 75-yard drive after receiving the second-half kickoff. The drive finished when Aaron Dawson (Westbury, N.Y. / W.T. Clarke / Milford Prep [Central Connecticut]) found the end zone on a 19-yard run to make it 21-17 Valpo with 12:30 left in the third.
- Senior Anthony Sciarroni (Columbus, Ohio / St. Francis DeSales [Alderson Broaddus at Findlay]) made an impressive interception on a ball that was deflected up into the air, getting his foot inbounds to help Valpo take over at midfield.
- The Beacons couldn’t cash in on the quality field position, and then Dayton used a nine-play, 70-yard drive to regain a 24-21 edge with 3:08 to go in the third. That drive ended with a two-yard TD pass.
- Valpo got back to even early in the fourth quarter as Brian Bartholomew (Sugar Grove, Ill. / Kaneland) sent a 35-yard field goal through the uprights. Dayton reached the red zone on the ensuing drive, but a sliding interception by Tyler Days (Syracuse, N. Y. / Cicero-North Syracuse [Boston College]) helped keep the game tied.
- The game stayed even as Dayton missed a 29-yard field goal try with 5:50 to go. The Flyers followed with a defensive stop that featured back-to-back sacks, then Dayton running back Jake Chisholm had the game-winning score from 23 yards out with 13 seconds on the clock.
Inside the Game
- Appel went 22-of-29 through the air for a career-high 323 yards. He became the first Valpo player to pass for 300 yards since Chris Duncan on Nov. 9, 2019 vs. Morehead State (304). Appel delivered Valpo’s best single-game passing performance since Jimmy Seewald passed for 424 yards on Sept. 9, 2017 vs. Duquesne.
- For the second straight week, Valpo featured a pair of 100-yard receivers. Contreras hauled in seven catches for 126 yards, his second straight week with upwards of 100 receiving yards, this time bettering his previous career high of 118, which came in last season’s matchup with Dayton. The seven catches also outdid his previous career high.
- Contreras was joined in the 100-yard receiving club by Davis, who made six grabs for 110 yards. This was Davis’ third 100-yard receiving game this season and his second straight.
- The 67-yard hookup between Appel and Davis represented Valpo’s longest passing play of the season. It was Valpo’s first pass completion of over 60 yards since Sept. 21, 2019 when Ollie Reese made a 61-yard grab at Truman State.
- Ross joined the success through the air with four catches for 79 yards.
- Contreras’ TD catch was his third this season and the fifth of his career, while Davis pulled down his fourth career score, all this season.
- The seven-point margin was the closest Valpo has come to winning at Welcome Stadium since the program’s last win at Dayton in 2003.
- This continued a theme of close games as three straight games and six out of the team’s eight games this season have been decided by seven points or fewer. In the program’s last 23 games, 14 have been one-score affairs.
- Dawson cracked the top five in program history in single-season rushing yards on Saturday. He is up to 893 yards after jumping Brandon Hall’s 2014 total of 855 for fifth in single-season program lore. Dawson finished the day with 69 yards on 18 carries.
- Dawson’s touchdown run represented his seventh of the season, three away from cracking the program’s single-season top five in that category.
- Bartholomew’s field goal was his seventh of the season and he’s knocked through 21 PATs on the year. He has 26 made field goals in his collegiate career.
- Sherman made his fourth career interception and his second in the last two weeks. Days came up with his first collegiate pick, while Sciarroni had one previously – his collegiate debut on March 13, 2021 at Butler.
- Sherman had a big day, as he had nine tackles, a forced fumble and a tackle for loss in addition to the interception.
- The Valpo defense entered Saturday’s game with three interceptions in the first seven games of the season and doubled that total in a single contest. The last time Valpo had three interceptions in one game was Nov. 6 of last season vs. Presbyterian.
- Doerer led Valpo with 12 tackles, while Graves set a career high with 10. This was Doerer’s third double-figure tackle output of the season.
- Valpo was plagued by seven penalties for 71 yards, and the Flyers outgained Valpo in rushing yards 307-36. Dayton had a pair of 100-yard rushers, as quarterback Shane Hamm went for 117 and running back Jake Chisholm for 103.
Valpo (4-4, 3-2 PFL) will try to return to the win column next week as first-place St. Thomas makes its way to Brown Field for a 1 p.m. kickoff. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3.