VALPARAISO | Morehead State erased an 11-point halftime deficit, holding host Valparaiso scoreless in the second half in a 42-28 victory on Saturday at Brown Field.
"Our offense only played 30 minutes," Valparaiso head coach Dale Carlson said. "We knew we had to score some points in the second half, but we didn't."
The Crusaders started strong, taking advantage of a pair of Morehead State turnovers to take a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter. Andrew Cassara scored on a 40-yard touchdown pass from Eric Hoffman to kick off the game's scoring. Cassara completed the game with 12 catches for 135 yards.
Hoffman added another touchdown following a Morehead State fumble on a 2-yard keeper with 5:54 remaining in the first quarter.
"Give Valpo credit, they did a good job batting down balls and we were down 14-0," Morehead State coach Rob Tenyer said. "Luckily our offense was able to respond."
Morehead did respond, first with a 51-yard touchdown pass from Austin Gahafer to Mason Rutherford and a Brandon Bornhauser 1-yard run to cut the Crusaders' lead to 14-12 early in the second stanza.
Valparaiso (1-6, 1-3 PFL) continued to show life in the second, scoring on a 22-yard pass from Hoffman to Tony Taibi with 10:52 remaining in the quarter and a 7-yard Hoffman toss to Steve O'Bryant to give the Crusaders a 28-19 halftime lead. An interception by Patrick Derbak, who had 14 tackles, helped set up O'Bryant's touchdown.
A catch and leap over defender by Valparaiso wide receiver Tanner Kuramata provided a spark on the Crusaders' final touchdown drive, but Kuramata was later ejected due to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
"We were short at receiver, but that is not an excuse," Carlson said. "Somebody needs to be able to step up."
A 38-yard field goal from Luke Boyd gave Morehead State their first lead at the 5:56 mark of the third quarter, 29-28, and the Eagles never looked back.
Morehead State running back Rob Harden gave the Eagles (3-4, 3-1) a 35-28 lead late in the third on a 1-yard touchdown run, his second score of the game.
The Valparaiso offense had a chance to tie the game midway through the fourth, but were stopped on a 4th-and-5 deep in Eagles' territory. On the day, the Crusaders were 2-for-6 on fourth down.
According to Carlson, the game came down to which defense would be able to hold on down the stretch.
"We knew defense was going to be key, and Morehead's hung on and ours didn't," he said.
Denzell Conway led the Crusaders rushing attack with 15 carries for 67 yards. Hoffman added 44 rushing yards and a touchdown.