‘It was refreshing’: VU football falls behind early, but pushes back in loss to league foe Dayton

Chicago Tribune Sports 1 day ago

This one was different.

Unlike four of the five previous losses, the Valparaiso University football team was in Saturday’s game, as coach Landon Fox explained.

“We put ourselves into a position where, if we got a stop, we had a chance to win the game,” Fox said. “That’s all you ask for each week — to give yourself a chance to win the game.”

VU didn’t convert in those key situations, though, losing 41-28 at home to Pioneer Football League foe Dayton.

But after hanging with Dayton (4-1, 2-0), the second-ranked team in the PFL’s preseason coaches’ poll, there’s still belief that victories aren’t far away for the Crusaders (0-6, 0-2).

Fox said part of that confidence stems from VU’s resiliency after falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter Saturday.

“It felt like a very calm sideline and it was refreshing,” Fox said. “We knew we were going to get through it, and we did.”

Redshirt junior Chris Duncan, a coach’s decision to return to the No. 1 quarterback role after Jimmy Seewald handled the last two games, invigorated VU with a 74-yard touchdown run to cut into that early deficit.

“I went back to my strength of running the ball during practice and playing confident,” Duncan said of his time as a backup. “It gave me time to sit back and reflect, but I still acted like I was the starter.”

Duncan’s TD run was the team’s longest play of the season and part of VU’s season-best output of 447 yards.

Sophomore wide receiver Ollie Reese added a 95-yard TD kickoff return in the third quarter after Dayton built a 28-14 lead. Reese initially fumbled the kickoff before scooping it up at his own 5-yard line.

“Right when I picked it up, I saw a huge hole and it got my eyes wide,” Reese said. “I tried to hit it as fast as possible. Credit to my guys for holding their blocks, too.”

But two key situations late in the game spelled VU’s demise. After Reese’s TD, the VU defense forced a three-and-out that gave the Crusaders possession with a chance to tie.

On fourth-and-8 from the Dayton 45, though, Duncan’s pass to Reese fell incomplete. On the ensuing drive, Dayton drove 55 yards in four plays to take a 34-21 lead.

VU’s next drive reached the Dayton 10 but the drive again stalled.

The Crusaders turned the ball over on downs after failing to convert a fourth-and-7 from the Dayton 14. The Flyers then drove 91 yards on 16 plays, taking 9:19 off the clock before scoring with 1:30 remaining.

Reese said that failing to convert in those vital moments is why the Crusaders remain winless.

“It feels like we’re always one or two plays away from being in every game,” Reese said. “We’ve been there the whole year.”

Dave Melton is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.

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