VALPARAISO, Ind. - Jacksonville University nearly overcame a 28-3 first quarter deficit with a second-half charge, but came up just short in a 42-39 defeat by Valparaiso University Saturday at Brown Field.
Jacksonville (4-5, 3-3) amassed 551 yards of total offense against Valpo (4-7, 3-5), including 329 on the ground. Rylan Wells led Jacksonville in rushing for the third-straight game with career-bests in 21 carries for 135 yards and two scores. He went 12-28 for 222 yards passing with one touchdown and interception.
"We fought hard to the very end but came up short," said Head Coach Ian Shields. "They made a few more plays than we did in crucial situations."
The Dolphins trailed 35-17 at the half but came out hot. Wells engineered a dominant rushing drive that spanned 78 yards on only five plays right out of the gate. He capped it with a 16-yard rushing touchdown.
Each team would trade offensive frustrations until Valpo's Jimmy Seewald's eight-yard pass to Jarrett Morgan gave the home team a 42-24 lead with 29 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
The Dolphins then tried to answer the score, but Wells came up a yard short on a fourth-and-six scramble from the Valpo 23. Despite a late hit penalty against the Crusaders, one of 11 committed by Valpo, the hosts took possession of the pigskin.
Jacksonville forced a punt and scored on another quick drive. It took less than two minutes off the clock for the Dolphins to march 33 yards on six plays. Will Montgomery's three-yard rushing score, his second in as many weeks, and Irvin Riley's two-point conversion run pulled the Dolphins within 10 points and 8:55 remained in the game.
Following another punt, the next Dolphin drive showed promise but stalled on a fourth-and-two from the Valpo nine.
The defense answered with a consecutive three-and-out, and this time the offense capitalized on a touchdown pass from Wells to Brian Burnett. The 23-yard passing score on third down ended a seven-play, 59-yard drive that left 2:27 to go in the game. The score for Burnett was his team-leading fifth touchdown reception of the fall.
After a failed onside kick, the defense held on third down, but the Crusaders ran out the remaining five seconds on fourth down.
Jacksonville trailed 28-3 after the first quarter with Valpo's scores coming from an opening 85-yard kickoff return by Bailey Gessinger, one-yard runs by Seewald and Cody Boxrucker, and a 72-yard Frank Catrine sprint.
JU's field goal by Javier Arce-Ramirezwas good from 23 yards and improved his accuracy to 7-8 on the season, including a perfect mark on his last seven attempts.
The Dolphins found pay dirt twice in the second quarter. An eight-play drive for 63 yards finished on a 16-yard run by Ulysses Bryant, and later a six-play, 66-yard march concluded with a 14-yard run by Wells.
Jacksonville concludes its season with a 12 p.m. start against Marist at home on Nov. 19 for Senior Day.