The Valparaiso University football team rallied from 15-0 down to score 16 unanswered points, edging Southwest Minnesota State 16-15 in the nonconference finale on a sun-splashed Saturday at Brown Field. The Valpo defense permitted just six points all game (the other nine were scored with Valpo’s offense on the field) and the unit came through in a big way after halftime, compiling a shutout over the game’s final 30 minutes.
How It Happened
- Valpo committed an early turnover via an interception, but that was sandwiched around a pair of drives in which the Beacon defense forced SMSU punts. The first points of the game came via a defensive play for the Mustangs as Valpo was sacked in the end zone for a safety to make it 2-0 in favor of the guests with 6:58 left in the opening quarter.
- The SMSU possession that followed resulted in the first offensive score of the game on a 65-yard pass to make it 8-0. The PAT was missed.
- A 61-yard kickoff return by Jashon Butler (Lynwood, Wash. / Meadowdale [Arizona]) set up Valpo in positive territory, but that drive resulted in a punt.
- Early in the second quarter, a pick six for the guests extended the edge to 15-0.
- Another big kickoff return by Butler put the Beacons in business as his 60-yard burst allowed the Valpo drive to start at the SMSU 40. That set up a 40-yard field goal by Ryan Hawk (Columbus, Ohio / Bishop Hartley) that clawed the hosts onto the scoreboard to make it 15-3 with 9:22 left in the second quarter.
- The Valpo defense forced a three-and-out that was punctuated by an Evan Annis (Hilliard, Ohio / Hilliard Davidson) sack, then an SMSU punt was blocked by Max Samuel (Edina, Minn. / Edina) to give the Brown & Gold first-and-goal at the 3-yard line.
- Twice Valpo appeared to rush for a touchdown, but both plays were called back by penalties. The drive ended with a missed 32-yard field goal attempt.
- The Valpo defense earned a takeaway when Onye Nwosisi (Indianapolis, Ind. / Cardinal Ridge [Muskingum]) forced a fumble that was recovered by Sam Hafner (Green Bay, Wis. / De Pere) near midfield with 2:14 left in the second quarter. That Beacon drive finished with quarterback Michael Appel Jr. (Springboro, Ohio / Springboro) finding Brandon Jimenez (Suffern, N.Y. / Don Bosco Prep [Albany]) for a 28-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 15-10 going into halftime.
- Each team punted on their first four drives of the second half, combining for eight consecutive drives that ended in punts. This led to a scoreless third quarter before Valpo finally broke through with 5:14 left in the fourth. Solomon Davis (Brighton, Tenn. / Brighton) made a key 18-yard snag on a drive that also featured a conversion on fourth-and-1 from the Valpo 44.
- All that helped lead to a 35-yard dash by Appel for the go-ahead score. The Beacons went for two to try to make it a three-point cushion, but the 2-point try failed.
- SMSU moved the ball into Valpo territory including a 19-yard completion, but George Trojanek (Carpentersville, Ill. / IMG Academy) came up with a big-time sack for a loss of five on third-and-4 from the Valpo 38. Annis pressured the quarterback into an incomplete pass on fourth-and-9 to create a turnover on downs with 1:43 remaining, helping keep the defense’s second-half shutout intact.
- Valpo faced fourth-and-5 from the 48 with five seconds on the clock, and Evan Matthes unleashed a punt that ate up the remaining time, prompting a mad dash to the victory bell from the Valpo sideline.
Inside the Game
- Valpo played its third straight game decided by fewer than seven points. Furthermore, this marked the third straight outing where regulation ended with Valpo and the opponent separated by two points or fewer.
- Nearly half of Landon Fox’s 45 games as Valpo head coach have been decided by seven points or fewer. Since the start of last season, six of the eight games played at Brown Field have been one-score affairs, so home fans have been treated to no shortage of thrilling football.
- This was Valpo’s first one-point game since a 26-25 loss to Butler last season. It was the team’s first win by the slimmest of margins since defeating San Diego 20-19 in the final game of the Spring 2021 campaign.
- A testament to the play of the defense on Saturday, the 16 points were the fewest that Valpo has scored in a win since beating Drake 10-7 on April 3, 2021.
- Valpo got five tackles apiece from Hafner, Jake Birmingham (River Forest, Ill. / Oak Park and River Forest), Will Abrams (Fox River Grove, Ill. / Cary-Grove) and Mohamed Kamara (Kalamazoo, Mich. / Kalamazoo Central [Hope]), while the defense totaled three sacks and four tackles for loss.
- Hafner’s fumble recovery was the first of his collegiate career. He has also forced a trio of fumbles during his collegiate tenure.
- Butler had a big day in the kick return game as he totaled 121 yards on two returns, averaging 60.5 yards per return with a long of 61.
- Davis made three catches for 31 yards, while Jimenez had two for 29 including his first career score.
- Appel’s 35-yard TD run was his longest career rushing play, outdoing his previous career long of 13 by 22 yards. That marked his fourth career rushing score and second this season.
- Freshman Brian Thomas (Apopka, Fla. / Orlando Christian Prep) had a team-high 34 rushing yards on eight carries.
- Samuel’s blocked punt was the third kick turned away by a Beacon this season. Only four FCS programs nationally had three or more blocks this season entering play on Saturday. During the Fall 2021 season, Valpo led the nation in blocked kicks with nine.
- Hawk’s hit from 40 yards out helped him improve to 2-for-2 on field goal tries in his collegiate career, both this season.
- Matthes averaged 45.8 yards per punt on six attempts with a long of 53.
Click here for postgame press conference.
Valpo (1-3, 0-1 PFL) will return to league play next week for a matchup with Drake that begins at 1 p.m. in Des Moines, Iowa.