A touchdown just before halftime helped the Valparaiso University football program enter the break with significant momentum and confidence, trailing by just seven at 17-10 against full-scholarship, Missouri Valley Football Conference foe Youngstown State, a team that entered the season ranked as high as 23rd nationally. However, the Penguins scored five unanswered touchdowns in the second half, four of which came in the third quarter, to prevail 52-10 in Thursday’s season opener at Stambaugh Stadium in Youngstown, Ohio.
How It Happened
- After the two teams exchanged three-and-out possessions to start the game, Youngstown State used a 62-yard run by Tyshon King to start the scoring with 10:04 left in the first quarter.
- Valpo moved the ball well during a 12-play, 73-yard drive that featured a 23-yard pass from Michael Appel Jr. (Springboro, Ohio / Springboro) to Brandon Jimenez (Suffern, N.Y. / Don Bosco Prep [Albany]) for a first down at the YSU 23. After a 10-yard pass from Appel to freshman Brian Thomas (Apopka, Fla. / Orlando Christian Prep) on third-and-goal from the 11, Valpo faced fourth-and-goal from the 1. The Beacons were stopped just shy of the goal line as the Penguins forced a turnover on downs to keep their 7-0 lead intact. Appel had nearly thrown a TD pass earlier in that sequence, but a sliding Jimenez was narrowly out of bounds at the back of the end zone.
- Backed up deep in its own territory, Youngstown State was forced to run the football and couldn’t gain much traction against the Valpo defense, leading to a three-and-out.
- After the Penguin punt, Valpo took over with good field position on its own 45. Jimenez snagged first-down catches of 10 and 13 yards in succession to move the ball to the Youngstown State 32. Appel used his legs to move the chains again, and eventually Patrick Oliva (South Bend, Ind. / Saint Joseph) sent one through the uprights for a 33-yard field goal to make it 7-3.
- Youngstown State nearly went three-and-out for the second straight possession, but a key conversion on third-and-10 jumpstarted a possession that culminated with a 17-yard TD pass from Mitch Davidson to CJ Charleston, extending the YSU lead to 14-3 with 8:42 left in the second quarter.
- The Penguins added a 30-yard field goal to make it 17-3 with 1:52 left in the second quarter.
- On the ensuing possession, Valpo received a big catch from Moise Tezzo (Houston, Texas / Fort Bend Austin [Millsaps]), who hauled in a 16-yard pass from Appel on third-and-8 from the Valpo 29. On the next play, Appel found Solomon Davis (Brighton, Tenn. / Brighton) for 53 yards down to the YSU 2. Ryan Mann (Vernon Hills, Ill. / Vernon Hills [Northern Illinois]) then punched it in from 2 yards out to help Valpo find pay dirt for the first time in the game and cut the lead to 17-10.
- Valpo went into the half with momentum, trailing by just seven and set to receive the football to start the second half.
- The Beacons sputtered in the third quarter, when a blocked punt, two strip-sack fumbles and a fumble on a kickoff return helped set up Youngstown State’s four scores that built the lead to 45-10. Youngstown State added on one more score in the fourth to account for the game’s final margin.
Inside the Game
- Punter Evan Matthes (Reston, Va. / South Lakes [West Virginia]) averaged 45.8 yards per punt on his five tries, pinning a pair inside the 20. His day was highlighted by a 70-yard boot, the longest of his career and the longest by a Valpo player since Ben Niesner’s 72-yarder on April 17, 2021 vs. San Diego.
- Davis (four catches, 56 yards), Ji menez (four catches, 52 yards) and Tezzo (three catches, 21 yards) were all key targets for Appel, who completed 17 of his 29 passes for 155 yards. Mann carried the bulk of the load for the Valpo rushing attack, finishing with 10 carries for 40 yards.
- The defense was paced by Colin Graves (Seattle, Wash. / Bishop Blanchet), who accumulated eight tackles, while Evan Annis (Hilliard, Ohio / Hilliard Davidson) registered seven in his return to the gridiron after missing all of last season with a knee injury.
- Oliva’s 33-yard field goal and made PAT represented the first kicks of his collegiate career.
- Mann’s rushing TD was his first in a Valpo uniform.
- This marked Valpo’s first Thursday night game since 2019 at Eastern Kentucky, the first game of the Landon Fox head coaching era.
- Youngstown State improved to 41-2 in its last 43 nonleague home games. They brought back the bulk of their starters from a team that went 7-4 overall and 5-3 in the MVFC.
Thoughts from Head Coach Landon Fox
“I liked the way we competed in the first half. Physically, we were very competitive. The frustrating part is that we beat ourselves in the second half. When you make those mistakes, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing, you’re going to get beat. I talked pregame about the genuine love I have for this team and how I feel about them. Just as you would as a parent when you have that love for your child, when they don’t play up to their potential, you get frustrated and mad. The key moving forward is addressing how we fix it.”
Valpo (0-1) will travel to Marion, Ind. to take on Indiana Wesleyan next Saturday, Sept. 9 for a 5 p.m. CT kickoff. Links to live video, audio and stats will be available on ValpoAthletics.com.