Landon Fox’s head coaching career began with a significant challenge on Thursday night in Richmond, Ky. as the Valparaiso University football team opened the season with a 53-7 defeat at Eastern Kentucky, a full-scholarship program that received votes across various preseason FCS polls. The Valpo defense provided several first-half highlights by forcing two turnovers, while the offense cracked the scoreboard with a big play through the air early in the third quarter.
How It Happened
- The Colonels got off to a strong start with one big play on each side of the ball in the first three minutes of the game. Daryl McCleskey ripped off a 64-yard touchdown run that was followed by a successful two-point try that made it 8-0 Eastern Kentucky with 13:12 to go in the first quarter. Corey Glass recovered a Valpo fumble and took it 29 yards for a touchdown with 12:17 left in the first to make it 15-0.
- With Valpo very much in need of a big play midway through the first quarter, one came courtesy of sophomore defensive back Michael Scarsella (Valparaiso, Ind. / Valparaiso). The Northwest Indiana local made an interception at the 50 and returned it 39 yards to the EKU 11-yard line, setting up favorable field position. However, Valpo didn’t convert the redzone chance as the drive ended with a missed field goal.
- The defense again stood tall, forcing a four-and-out including a fourth-down stop by Austin Petrie (Livonia, Mich. / Stevenson) and Jamari Booker (Kentwood, Mich. / East Kentwood), who paired up to bring down EKU tailback Dakota Allen behind the line of scrimmage on 4th-and-4 from the EKU 26 with 6:08 left in the opening quarter. Valpo took over on downs at that spot, but settled for a 41-yard field goal try that was wide right.
- After EKU expanded the lead to 32-0, Valpo moved the ball to the Eastern Kentucky 32, but turned it over on downs. On the ensuing EKU drive, the second Valpo interception of the night came courtesy of Matthew Messler (Charlotte, N.C. / Adrey Kell), allowing Valpo to again take over in Eastern Kentucky territory. The experienced Colonels defense came up with another stop, and Valpo went into the break trailing by 32.
- The first drive of the third quarter was Valpo’s best of the night. Cody Boxrucker (West Chester, Ohio / Badin) started the series with consecutive carries that totaled seven yards, then quarterback Chris Duncan (Woodland Hills, Calif. / Woodland Hills-Taft) found Riley Allison (Fort Lauderdale, Fla. / St. Thomas Aquinas) for a pickup of five and a first down. That set up Valpo’s biggest offensive play of the evening, when Duncan put one on the money for Ollie Reese (Franklin, Tenn. / Battle Ground), who broke free down the sideline for a 61-yard touchdown reception.
- There were a number of highlights for the Valpo defense scattered throughout the evening, including a stop on 4th-and-1 on the first play of the fourth quarter where Jaxon Peifer (Normal, Ill. / Normal Community) and Austin Martins (Newman, Calif. / Orestimba [Modesto JC]) were both in on the tackle for a loss of one, forcing a turnover on downs.
- Alonzo Booth had three touchdown runs for the Colonels, the last of which came with 9:50 to play. Alex Cabrera’s five-yard touchdown run with 2:11 left of fourth-quarter time capped the scoring.
Inside the Game
- Peifer led the team with 10 tackles (six solos) in his first career start. Kohlton Sherman (Millington, Mich. / Millington) also started and racked up eight tackles for the Valpo defense.
- Messler and Scarsella both made their second career interception. Coincidentally, their prior interceptions also came in the same game, a 35-17 victory over Butler on Oct. 13 of last season.
- Boxrucker led the rushing attack with 12 carries for 45 yards. Valpo ran the ball 45 times, spreading the attempts among seven individuals including five running backs. Allison had 12 carries while Doug Haugh (Redlands, Calif. / Redlands Senior) had five and Kyle Cartales (Loxachatchee, Fla. / Cardinal Newman) had three.
- The Reese TD catch was the first of his career. He totaled four receptions for 35 yards all of last season and had three grabs for 71 yards in the first game of his sophomore campaign.
- Duncan completed his 17th career TD pass while going 7-of-19 through the air for 116 yards.
- The Valpo offense faced a veteran EKU defense that finished second in the Ohio Valley Conference in both points per game and yards per game last season. The Colonels defense is under the direction of former Valpo assistant coach Kurt Mattix, who also worked with Landon Fox at Wayne State.
- The Valpo defense totaled seven tackles for a loss including two sacks while notching a pair of interceptions on Thursday.
Valpo (0-1) will have a long layoff with the Thursday night opener followed by a bye in Week 2. The team will open up the home portion of the slate on Saturday, Sept. 14 at 1 p.m. against Central Connecticut State at Brown Field.