RENSSELAER | Tony Gallinatti’s left eye was still bloodied and bruised after taking eight stitches to close a gash just below the brow.
But after St. Joseph's wild 34-31 win over Valparaiso University on Saturday, the senior linebacker was feeling no pain.
“We had the heart to stay in it,” said Gallinatti, a Valparaiso High School graduate. “We got knocked back a couple times, but we sat down, we collected ourselves and got our game plan together.
“We executed very well, and, at the end, we got the ‘W.’”
Much like last year’s meeting, the game came down to the final possession.
This time it was St. Joseph’s defense that came up with the big play to preserve the win at Alumni Stadium.
“It was wild and woolly,” Valpo coach Dale Carlson said. “We had our opportunities, and we just didn’t make the plays we needed to make. Unfortunately, St. Joe did, and you’ve got to give them credit.”
After Wheeler grad Gavin Voss’s 29-yard field goal split the uprights for the 34-31 lead with 4:51 remaining, Valpo (0-2) had one last shot.
The Crusaders moved the ball from their own 35-yard line to the Pumas’ 38, where they faced a fourth-and-12 with 1:46 left. Eric Hoffman’s pass to Kent Warren was stopped three yards short.
“That was great, that was awesome,” said Gallinatti, who collected a sack in the first half. “It’s bittersweet. I grew up watching all those games every Saturday, but this is business.”
Both teams got down to business offensively during much of the game.
After Hoffman’s quick 73-yard scoring strike to Fred Gladney on the game’s second play from scrimmage put Valpo up 6-0, St. Joe (1-0) stormed back with 18 unanswered points.
Julian Walker caught two TD passes from Billy VanderMerkt in the process.
Walker collected 10 passes for 126 yards and three scores on the day, as VanderMerkt finished with 404 yards passing.
“We all fought together, and I’m glad we bought in and came back to win,” Walker said.
Warren caught another touchdown pass just before the half to get Valpo within 18-13.
Valpo put 10 points on the board in the third quarter to take a 23-18 lead.
“It was a good game, and they played hard,” said Valpo’s Jake Hutson, who rushed for 129 yards. “I’m not going to take any credit away from them, but we’ve got to make some bigger plays and be more consistent.”
St. Joe rallied to take a 31-23 lead before Tanner Kuramata caught a 58-yard pass from Hoffman and a 2-point conversion to knot the game at 31-31 with 8:08 left to set up the wild finish.
“I was happy to see that we came back, but we’ve got to learn to finish,” Carlson said. “And that’s the deal. We just didn’t finish it today.”
St. Joe head coach Cory Sanders had faith in his defense.
“We’re a family here, we trust everybody,” he said.