PORTAGE | Five long years. Eight grueling defeats. And that was just at the varsity level.
Gage Pearman and Cody Maldonado had enough of losing to Valparaiso over the course of their careers, so the Portage seniors did something about it Friday night, hooking up for three touchdowns in a 28-13 win over the Vikings.
The victory was the first for the Indians over Valparaiso since a 28-25 win on Oct. 5, 2007, and the first at any level for the Portage seniors.
“We heard about the streak all week from our coaches,” Pearman said. “We’ve been waiting to beat Valpo for a long time, and it was a great atmosphere to do it here at home on Senior Night.”
Maldonado caught four passes for 130 yards, including two touchdowns in the third quarter that turned a close game into a definitive Portage victory. The senior receiver caught a 31-yard touchdown on the second play of the second half and then delivered the backbreaker to Valparaiso with an 89-yard catch-and-run to give the Indians (5-3, 4-2 DAC) a 28-10 lead midway through the third quarter.
“I just zoned out once I caught the ball,” Maldonado said. “The line held, and I just waited for Gage to get the ball to me.”
The game took a turn late in the first half when Valparaiso quarterback David Hittinger scored on a 12-yard run to bring the Vikings (3-5, 3-3) within one possession. The senior quarterback was on the ground for several minutes before heading straight to the locker room with a head injury. Hittinger returned to the sidelines in the second half without his helmet, and junior JP Kunze took over at quarterback.
“I was proud of JP,” Valparaiso coach Dave Coyle said. “He didn’t do anything that hurt us. We had some breaks and bad things happen. It’s like a black cloud is hanging over us.”
The Vikings continued to be plagued by turnovers as a fumble at midfield turned into a 41-yard return by Nick Chandler that helped set up Pearman’s first touchdown strike to Maldonado. While Portage took advantage of several Valparaiso miscues, coach Wally McCormack was by no means satisfied after the victory.
“We practiced like chumps this week,” McCormack said. “I’m not happy. I’m happy for our seniors. There are a series of things that happen in this profession. I hope from now until next Friday we do what we’re supposed to do. We didn’t practice very good all week. This is a big rivalry for us, at least it’s supposed to be.”