Trailing by 15 points entering the fourth quarter, Valparaiso rallied to pull within two and had the football late in the game, but could not find a last minute score as the Crusaders fell 21-19 to Drake on Homecoming Saturday afternoon at Brown Field.
“We played better and played harder today, but we didn’t finish the game,” head coach Dale Carlson said after the game. “We had the effort we’ve been looking for over four quarters. However, there are no moral victories, just wins and losses.”
Drake led 14-6 at halftime and extended the lead to 21-6 after David Witkiewicz intercepted the first play from scrimmage in the second half and returned it 13 yards for a touchdown.
Valpo’s defense kept the Crusaders in the game in the second half though, allowing Drake to tally just 19 total yards over the final 30 minutes, including negative six in the fourth quarter.
The Crusaders cut the deficit to 21-12 following Chris Giehon’s (Oak Forest, Ill./Tinley Park H.S.) one-yard touchdown run, his first collegiate score. Giehon’s run capped a 10-play, 53-yard drive with 8:00 remaining in the game. Nate Goergen (Golden, Colo./Golden H.S.) found Travis Anderson (Chesterton, Ind./Chesterton H.S.) for a 33-yard completion on a third-and-12 play and also converted a fourth-and-one to keep the drive alive.
Valpo went for two, but Bobby Wysocki (Calumet City, Ill./Thornwood H.S.) was stopped just shy of the goal line.
On Drake’s first play following the ensuing kickoff, Christopher Howard (Crown Point, Ind./Andrean H.S.) recovered a Bulldog fumble at the Drake 22-yardline give the Crusaders good field position.
Four plays later, Goergen found Sean McCarty (Waukesha, Wis./West H.S.) from eight yards out for Valpo’s first passing touchdown of the season, and following Mike Pando’s (Hamilton, Mich./Hamilton H.S.), the Crusaders were within 21-19 with 6:43 to play in the game.
Drake drove the ball down field but Howard came up with another big play, tackling Tom Kostek for a five-yard loss on fourth-and-two at the Valpo 22 with 3:35 to play, giving the Crusaders one last chance.
Valpo moved the ball to its own 44-yard line, but an incompletion on fourth down ended the drive with just 1:49 to play and the Bulldogs ran out the clock.
The Bulldogs found the scoreboard first with 6:46 remaining in the opening quarter as Pat Cashman scored on a 16-yard run after taking a pitch on the right side and scampering through the middle to the end zone.
The Crusaders answered as Wysocki scored from five yards out with 13:34 to play in the first, capping a 13-play, 62-yard drive. The point after was missed though, and Drake maintained a 7-6 advantage.
Steve Platek then hauled in a 14-yard touchdown pass from Cody Seegar on Drake’s next possession, increasing the lead to 14-6.
Valpo remained within eight at halftime thanks to the defense. Sean Graves (Akron, Ohio/Buchtel H.S.) stuffed an end around attempt on fourth down to give the Crusaders the ball back on Drake’s next possession and Brett Heber (Glenview, Ill./Glenbrook South H.S.) blocked Billy Janssen’s 21-yard field goal attempt just before halftime.
Goergen finished the game 9-of-14 for 66 yards and the touchdown after coming in relief of starter Eric Lemon (Stevensville, Mich./Lakeshore H.S.), who was 14-of-22 for 54 yards. Anderson had a team-high five grabs for 52 yards to lead the Crusader receivers while Wysocki led the ground game with 10 carries for 28 yards and a touchdown.
Seeger was 15-of-23 for 106 yards and a touchdown for Drake (2-2, 1-0 PFL) while Pat Cashmore led all rushers with 10 carries for 44 yards.
Drake finished with 210 yards of total offense compared with 158 for Valpo. Each team committed two turnovers.
“We weren’t forcing turnovers earlier in the year but we were able to turn some into points today,” Carlson said. “We just can’t turn the ball over and give up 14 points like we did though.”
Graves finished with a game-high 12 tackles for the Brown and Gold while Bryce LaMore (Manteno, Ill./Bishop McNamera H.S.) had 11 stops, including 2.5 for loss.
Valparaiso (0-4, 0-1) will return to the gridiron next Saturday in search of its first victory of the season in Dayton, Ohio. Kickoff against the Flyers of Dayton is set for 12 p.m. CDT.
Game Notes: LaMore’s 11 tackles came in the freshman’s first collegiate start … Valpo finished the game with 13 total tackles for loss, including four sacks … Valpo has not committed a first half penalty in each of the last two weeks and has had just three total during the two games … Drake leads the all-time series 15-3 and has won seven straight … Valpo dropped its PFL opener for the fifth straight season … Carlson and the Crusader coaching staff had patches on their shirts as part of the third annual Coach to Cure MD program in which they took part.