Football drops heartbreaker to Valparaiso, 29-27

Nov. 3, 2007

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - With nine minutes left in the game, it looked as if the JU football team was going to put the finishing touches on an impressive second half rally over Valparaiso.

But the Crusaders (5-5, 2-4 PFL) scored two touchdowns in the final eight minutes, the last coming on a 2-yard run by Mozale McHenry with 1:45 left in the game to give Valpo a 29-27 win at D.B. Milne Field on Saturday.

The final drive was setup by the third JU turnover of the game - a fumble by running back Tommie Rogers that gave the Crusaders the ball back with 2:48 left in the game at the JU 31.

"We had an opportunity to run out the clock and we just didn't execute," said JU head coach Kerwin Bell. "We made too many mistakes today and you have to give Valpo credit because they made us pay for them."

The comeback overshadowed a solid second half effort from the Dolphins, that saw JU score 21 unanswered points to take the lead, rallying from a 17-6 halftime deficit to take a 27-17 lead on Ron Harris' 3-yard run with 9:53 left in regulation.

Harris came on in the second half in place of an injured Rudell Small and shined, carrying the ball 10 times for 83 yards. Small had a solid day as well, rushing for 92 yards on 10 carries before reinjuring his ankle.

The run by Harris capped 21 unanswered points by JU that put the Dolphins on top for the first time.

Trailing by 11 at the half, the Dolphins scored on their first drive of the second half, with Jeremy Brown scoring from one-yard out with 12:37 left in the third.

Trailing by five, Nate Conner's rush on a reverse was stopped shy of the goal line and the Crusaders' lead was cut to five, 17-12.

After a defensive stop, the Dolphins drop 62 yards in six plays, as Erik Stepelton scored on a quarterback sneak from a yard out. Stepelton completed a pass to Conner for the two-point conversion to give JU its first lead of the day, 20-17, with 5:36 left in the third.

Stepelton, who came on in relief of starter Chris Horton in the first quarter, sparked the JU offense by completing 9-of-27 for 183 yards and one touchdown - a first quarter toss to Michael Jenner from 14-yards out and the Dolphins' first score.

The Crusaders' comeback began on the drive following Harris' score. Valpo drove 43 yards in seven plays with quarterback Warren Arnold connecting with Neal Henton on 8-yard touchdown with 7:32 left in the game.

JU blocked the extra point and was clinging to a 27-23 lead.

The Dolphins had two drives to put the game away. The first saw JU go 48 yards in nine plays, but Michael Zacco's 38-yard field goal attempt was blocked to keep the Crusaders hopes alive.

But the JU defense got a quick 3-and-out, to setup what was supposed to be a time grinding drive.

On 2nd-and-7, Rogers was hit was from behind by Adam Rundh and Matt Watkins recovered at the JU 31 to setup the Valpo scoring drive.

It didn't look like Valpo was going to need any late heroics early in rolling up the 11-point halftime lead, scoring on its first two drives. The Crusaders rushed for 209 yards in the first half, but the JU defense stood strong in the second half as Valpo got just 63 rushing yards in the second half.

JU's Jason Wood finished the game with 14 tackles, including 11 solos which tied the school record for most solo tackles.

"We did some things different defensively in the second half to try and combat their running attack," Bell said. "We were able to do a good job of forcing them into throwing situations and pressuring their quarterback."

Arnold finished the game with 105 yards rushing on 19 carries. Running back John Popper finished the game with 91 yards on 16 carries and two touchdowns - a 1-yard and 2-yard run in the first quarter as Valpo took the early lead.

The Dolphins wrap up their PFL schedule next week at home against Butler. Kickoff is set for Noon.