VALPARAISO — Seven years.
Valparaiso last topped Penn in 2010. That victory was still the last Region win against the Mishawaka powerhouse.
Until Friday night.
Behind a stifling defense and the will of quarterback Jake Leffew, the Time No. 5 Vikings outlasted the Kingsmen 12-7.
“This is huge for our kids because it allows them to know they can compete,” Valparaiso coach Dave Coyle said. “So many times we start our season 0-1. The very few times we start 1-0, it’s exciting. It’s like Christmas.”
Valparaiso held Penn to just 87 total yards of offense.
“(Penn coach) Cory (Yeoman) has a great program and this happens to us only every once in a great while and we’re excited,” Coyle said. “We worked very hard.”
Leffew’s 1-yard touchdown run capped 54-yard, two-minute drive for Valparaiso with 10 minutes to play in the fourth quarter. It clinched the game.
“In my four years, it’s always been our goal to beat Penn and this time we did it,” Leffew said. “It’s always ‘You’ve got big, bad Penn coming in.’ Nobody believes in us but we always believe in ourselves.”
Leffew finished with 145 yards passing. At one point, he missed on all but three of 15 passes. But he connected with receivers on his last four throws on the critical drive.
“The game’s going to be up and down. Coming out at halftime, you want to get off to a strong start, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen,” Leffew said. “We knew, going into the fourth quarter, that we had to score. From there out, it was just a different mentality, make or break.”
The Vikings moved the ball easily early, driving deep into Penn territory on the first drive before being derailed by penalties and an Adam Berta sack.
The Valparaiso defense did its job, too, forcing the Kingsmen to punt in four downs on each of the first two possessions.
“As things were getting tiring for both sides, I thought our kids did a great job with that quick pace,” Coyle said. “We worked real hard with conditioning tonight and I think it paid off. It was humid tonight. It was hot.”
Penn scored on the first play of the second quarter. A Ryan Lynch pass was short, but Paul Moala juggled and corralled it before scampering into the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown.
The answer came about three minutes later.
After Penn bobbled a punt snap, Valparaiso took over at the Kingsmen 24-yard line. A few plays later, Leffew hit Jesse Harper for a 20-yard score. The extra point failed and the Vikings still trailed 7-6, a score that would carry into the break.
“To get a win against a caliber of team like Penn, that’s awesome for us. It’s just awesome for us,” Coyle said.