The Valparaiso University football team picked an opportune time for its most complete performance of the season on Saturday afternoon at Brown Field.
The Hoosier Helmet will remain in Northwest Indiana for another year as Valpo put together a quality showing in all three phases to dispatch rival Butler 35-17. The smiles were numerous following the game as a team that has battled through injuries and adversity soaked up a moment of joy by celebrating with the rivalry trophy and continuing the long-standing tradition of ringing the Victory Bell to signify a win.
How It Happened
- It was clear from the outset that this was a Valpo team playing with extra motivation and added focus this week as the first quarter went about as favorably as possible. The defense set the tone by forcing a three-and-out on Butler’s first drive, then quarterback Jimmy Seewald (Livonia, Mich. / Divine Child) choreographed a nine-play, 51-yard touchdown drive that culminated with a 22-yard TD reception by senior Griffin Norberg (Sunrise, Fla. / Western)
- Butler’s second drive wasn’t much more successful than its first, as three plays and eight yards later, the punt unit was back on the field. That set up a 12-play, 54-yard drive that finished with Cody Boxrucker (West Chester, Ohio / Badin) punching it into the end zone for a 1-yard score. A roughing the passer call against Butler erased an interception on the drive, which featured conversions on a pair of third downs and one fourth down.
- Butler went three-and-out for a third straight drive and didn’t achieve a first down in the first quarter.
- The Bulldogs (3-3, 1-2) did get on the board with 11:25 left in the second quarter on a Pace Temple 5-yard TD catch, then it was Temple again on a 4-yard TD to tie the game with 1:50 left in the first half. That sent the two teams into the locker room even at 14.
- If fans took their time getting back to their seats for the second half kickoff, they missed a fast Valpo touchdown. How fast? Bailey Gessinger (Napanee, Ind. / Northwood) fast – the Valpo junior returned the second-half kickoff 97 yards to put Valpo back in front at 21-14.
- After Butler closed the lead to four with a 39-yard field goal by Drew Bevelhimer, neither team scored for the rest of the third, and the hosts took a 21-17 edge to the final period.
- Matt Messler (Charlotte, N.C. / Ardrey Kell), who saw significant playing time with Nick Turner limited by an injury, made his first of two giant plays when he joined forces with senior Drew Snouffer (Columbus, Ohio / Upper Arlington) for a stop on fourth-and-1 at the Valpo 37 with 11:41 left in the fourth, causing a turnover on downs.
- The next Valpo drive saw Kyle Cartales (Loxhatchee, Fla. / Cardinal Newman) make an 18-yard catch and convert with a run on third-and-2 before Boxrucker barreled into the end zone from 5 yards out on another third-down play. That upped the edge to 28-17 with 7:04 to play.
- On the first play of Butler’s next drive, Messler intercepted a pass at the Butler 28 and returned it 26 yards all the way to the 2, setting up first-and-goal for Valpo. It only took one snap for that to translate into points as Boxrucker gained another TD with a 2-yard run to make it 35-17.
- If the interception by Messler wasn’t the dagger, the one by Michael Scarsella (Valparaiso, Ind. / Valparaiso) sure was. The freshman intercepted a pass at the Valpo 20 and returned it 25 yards, sending Valpo fans into a frenzy. From there, Valpo successfully ate the remainder of the clock to seal the win.
Inside the Game
- Valpo has defeated Butler in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2005. The Hoosier Helmet trophy was created in 2006, so this marks the first time it has called Northwest Indiana home multiple years in a row. Valpo is 3-2 against Butler in Dave Cecchini’s five seasons as head coach.
- Valpo went 14-of-18 on third-down plays in the game. Entering Saturday’s college football action, no FCS team in the nation had more than 13 third-down conversions in a single game this year. Robert Morris (13 vs. Dayton on Sept. 1) had the most entering play on Saturday. In fact, Valpo joins Missouri (Sept. 8 vs. Wyoming) as the only Division I teams in FBS or FCS with 14 third-down conversions in a single game this year. Missouri went 14-of-20, while Valpo needed just 18 chances to move the chains 14 times on third down.
- Boxrucker had three rushing TDs in a single game for the second straight season after he did so against Trinity International last year. On Saturday, he became the first Valpo player to rush for three touchdowns in a game against a Division I opponent since Jake Hutson on Sept. 28, 2013 against Campbell. Boxrucker is up to 17 career rushing touchdowns. Entering Saturday, there were only 43 players nationally with three rushing TDs in a single game this season.
- Valpo held Butler to 104 rushing yards, by far the fewest Valpo has allowed in a game this season. This was the fewest rushing yards Valpo has permitted in a game since holding Stetson to 67 on Sept. 30 of last season.
- Gessinger’s kickoff return for a touchdown was the third of his career and first since 2016. He returned one 89 yards on Oct. 1, 2016 at Morehead State and 85 yards on Nov. 12, 2016 vs. Jacksonville, so the 97 yarder was the longest of his career. Gessinger already owns the distinction of being the only player in Valpo history with two kickoff returns for touchdowns in the same season.
- Mason Sutter (Woodstock, Ill. / Woodstock) led his team with 82 receiving yards on five catches. Norberg had a team-high six receptions for 54 yards. Cartales racked up 84 yards on 24 carries, while Valpo totaled 129 yards on the ground. Seewald went 11-of-16 for 117 yards, while Chris Duncan (Woodland Hills, Calif. / Woodland Hills Taft) completed seven of his 13 pass attempts for 86 yards.
- Jamari Booker (Kentwood, Mich. / East Kentwood) was Valpo’s leading tackler with nine, while James Reed (De Soto, Mo. / Saint Pius X) was in on eight stops.
- This win came over a Butler team that upset No. 24 Youngstown State, a full-scholarship Missouri Valley Football Conference team, on the road earlier this season.
- Norberg made his fifth TD reception of the season, while Seewald had his third TD pass. Seewald is up to 34 career passing TDs, while Norberg has hauled in 12 TD catches and has 14 total scores in his career.
- Scarsella and Messler both grabbed their first career interception.
- The win allowed head coach Dave Cecchini to become Valpo’s winningest coach through the first 50 games of his tenure since Bill Koch coached his 50th game on Sept. 18, 1982 at Wisconsin Eau Claire.
Thoughts from Head Coach Dave Cecchini
“Obviously, this was an incredible win. It’s great to see our team come out and play the way they did. It was an incredible day; we talked last night about needing to step up and make critical plays. One of the things we had failed to do all year was get off the field on third down and convert on third down when our offense was on the field. Our defense stepped up huge today time and time again. We had our best day of the year in terms of third-down conversions, and on offense we were 14-of-18 on third downs. That’s an incredible feeling to have that level of confidence, particularly at the end of the game when they knew we had to run the football to run the clock out, and we were able to do that successfully.”
“Today was also huge from a turnover perspective and we picked an outstanding time to step up and make plays with both Michael Scarsella and Matt Messler’s interceptions in the fourth quarter. We stepped up and made plays that we hadn’t made in prior weeks.”
“This is a good football team that we have here. Our players know it, and I give them credit for winning the football game. They stepped up in a big way. We talked about how it would take a team full of heroes, and that’s what we had today, a team full of heroes.
“I want to recognize Tom (Schofield) and our offensive line. Tom is a guy who has been playing football for four years here and offensive line is about as anonymous as you can get out on the football field. Tom was able to get some recognition this past year being voted second-team all-conference. He’s done a great job all year for us and the last four years. We’ve got a lot of guys like Tom who don’t get a lot of recognition that they deserve, and we have four other offensive lineman who stepped up huge today. At the end of that game to be able to move the line of scrimmage the way that we did and the way that we were able to finish drives on the goal line, the offensive line did an outstanding job. We have some running backs who can make plays, and they get all the glory and the quarterbacks get all the glory, but it starts up front and our players made plays, not just our marquee players, but some of the guys who stepped up on special teams in their first meaningful football as well as guys like Tom, who have been here for four years.”
“I’d like to send a message out to Alex Ng, our starting punter and holder. He got the call early in the week and he wasn’t able to be with us for this game because his father is currently going through a really tough time. Our prayers go out to Alex, who is back in Florida where he should be. I know he wishes he was here, but we certainly wish him and his father nothing but the best.”
Valpo (1-5, 1-2) will look to climb to .500 in PFL play with next week’s visit to Morehead State. The game will kick off at 1 p.m. CT and will be available on ESPN+ in addition to 95.1FM Valparaiso. Links to live video, audio and stats are available on ValpoAthletics.com.