JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Defense was the name of the game, as Jacksonville University's football team used a pair of late stops to thwart Valparaiso's comeback, in a 20-17 victory at D.B. Milne Field Saturday.
In the final minutes of the fourth quarter, sophomore linebacker Trevor Tufano halted what would have been Valpo's go-ahead score with an interception in the end zone.
Jacksonville's defense forced four turnovers on the day.
"It was just a great win," said Tufano. "We came out slower than we wanted to, but we got it done today and that's all that matters. We just had to get after it. Coach always preaches 100 percent effort and to go hard every play. That's all there was to it."
Outside linebacker Caysaun Wakeley entered the game with a team-high 53 tackles, but it was his catching ability on Valpo's first drive that brought the Dolphin crowd to its feet.
After Rylan Wells pinned the Crusaders at their own two-yard line on a 48-yard punt, Wakeley concluded the visitor's opening appearance with an interception, and the takeaway led to a Jacksonville field goal.
A possession later, Valparaiso avenged its earlier miscue with an 11 play, 79-yard drive that included a fourth down conversion and a 22-yard touchdown pass.
Javier Arce-Ramirez pulled the Dolphins within one, 7-6, at the start of the second quarter, booting in a career long, 46-yard field goal, and Irvin Riley regained the team's advantage on its next drive. Jake Dempsey and Mitchell Bailey provided the blocking for their sophomore running back and he punched it into the end zone from 14 yards out.
First half action, however, concluded with Valpo up, 14-13.
The scoreboard remained unchanged until the final seconds of the third quarter when Riley scored on a one-yard rush. The short yardage was setup by Jake Brito's 43-yard reception, his first catch of the year, which put JU on the Crusaders' four-yard line.
From there, Jacksonville's defense closed out the game.
With all things clicking for Valpo, the Crusaders appeared to be on the verge of scoring two touchdowns in the final quarter, but both runs were thwarted.
When Valparaiso drove down to the three-yard line at the start of the quarter, Tufano forced a fumble on third and goal; it was recovered by the Crusaders, but on the next down, Wakeley snuffed the team's quarterback to force a 20-yard field goal.
The visitor's final drive concluded at Jacksonville's 10-yard line with Tufano catching an interception in the end zone. He finished the day with two forced fumbles, an interception and 10 tackles.
"This was the most complete game we've played. It wasn't always pretty but we battled," said Head Coach Ian Shields. "I'm just proud of how we played collectively. We had our backs against the wall, but made some big plays - none bigger than Trevor Tufano's interception there at the end. We have the ball, they have all of their timeouts left, but we ran the clock out to win the game. That's really a signature of what we aspire to be offensively."
In the decision, Jacksonville improved to 6-3 overall and 4-3 in the Pioneer Football League.
One final home game remains on the Dolphins' schedule, and they will celebrate 12 seniors next Saturday before a 1 p.m. kick versus Stetson.