VALPARAISO — As Valparaiso football coach Dave Coyle and defensive coordinator Sam Bernardi shook off their respective Gatorade baths, the Vikings sprinted to the student section to begin celebrating their first outright Duneland Athletic Conference title in seven years on Friday night.
Valparaiso scored early and often as Reece Crossin accounted for five touchdowns to lead the Vikings to a 42-8 win over Lake Central in the regular-season finale at Viking Field.
Valparaiso won its first conference title since 2015 and its first outright title since 2010 on Friday night. The Vikings have now won eight outright DAC titles dating back to 1970, and this seasons championship marked the first time Valparaiso has ever won an outright title while losing a conference game during the season.
“I’m so proud of each and every one of these guys,” Coyle said. “They’ve been working toward this since Dec. 1. Their motto was ‘Raise the Bar’ and they’ve continued to work. We’re going to enjoy this for a little bit and then get back to work tomorrow as we prepare to come back here in two weeks.”
The Vikings started their magical season with a 12-7 win over Penn in Week 1, the same team that will come back to Viking Field for the Class 6A sectional opener Oct. 27. While the game was viewed as an upset throughout the state, the Valparaiso players expected a strong season.
“That’s where we had our minds,” Valparaiso senior defensive lineman Adrian Guzman said. “We’re a way different team now (than we were in Week 1). We’ve put in a lot of work.”
Guzman set the tone defensively early on, sacking Lake Central quarterback Zach Bundalo early in the first quarter. The Indians (2-7, 1-6) were held to minus-10 rushing yards through the first three quarters and Lake Central didn’t score until Coyle had long emptied his bench.
Crossin gave Valparaiso an early advantage with an 8-yard touchdown run on the Vikings’ first drive of the game. The reserve quarterback added another score on the ground two drives later and then hit Jesse Harper for a 60-yard touchdown late in the first quarter.
“We were communicating together really well tonight,” Crossin said. “It’s all about our team chemistry. We’re really clicking right now.”
Crossin is expected to return to the defensive side of the ball if Jake Leffew (knee) is able to return to action in two weeks. If Friday marked Crossin’s last time playing quarterback for the season, it was quite the swan song. Crossin added another touchdown pass to Harper late in the first half and then hit Jake Evans for a 9-yard score late in the third quarter before giving way to CJ Opperman. Crossin finished 10 for 14 passing for 149 yards and carried the ball 16 times for 114 yards.
“He’s a warrior, a warrior, a warrior,” Coyle said. “I’ve said it time and time again. What more can you say about him? He’s a multi-sport athlete and that just goes to show for anyone wondering if their kid should play multiple sports, talk to him. Because he’s played multiple sports, he was ready to do this.”
Harper finished with four catches for 91 yards and two touchdowns while Evans added four catches for 29 yards and a score. Sir Felix Garcia added a 4-yard touchdown late in the game for Lake Central’s lone score of the night.