MISHAWAKA — When opposing quarterbacks drop back, Valparaiso hopes one feeling pops into their minds: Fear.
The Vikings have terrorized offenses this season, allowing 106 points in 10 games entering Friday's Class 6A sectional title bout at Penn. None of those performances impressed like Valparaiso's 21-0 win over the Kingsmen for its first sectional title since 2010, as Penn quarterback Ron Powlus ran for his life all night.
“We just want them to be scared out of their minds,” Vikings senior lineman Jarred Craft said. “We want to have four big bodies — maybe even more than that — running at them. They have to double-think about throwing the ball, because we have good coverage, and basically shut them down.”
In a dominant first half, Valparaiso racked up four sacks, gave up one first down, allowed zero completions and never let the Kingsmen get further than their own 37-yard line. Defensive linemen Cooper Jones, Troy Barton and Craft harassed Powlus and dragged down ball carriers from all angles. Vikings head coach Bill Marshall moved Barton inside to defensive tackle, which helped Jones nab two sacks from one-on-one matchups.
A stunned black-and-gold crowd looked on in near silence as Valparaiso, The Times' No. 2-ranked team, rampaged to a 14-0 lead. The Vikings' performance stood in stark contrast to their 21-3 loss to Penn in the season opener Aug. 17, and Craft said Valparaiso wanted vengeance.
“It was just a matter of knowing that you can play the caliber of football that we believe they can play,” Marshall said. “Those four words, 'I believe in you,' is what we just kept preaching to them. We believed in them, I know they believed in each other and themselves, and that's a testament to how hard they've worked and will continue to work, hopefully for a couple of more weeks at least.”
The Vikings' offense hummed along early, too, as senior Jackson Kurth busted through arm tackles en route to a 173-yard game and a diving 1-yard touchdown to get Valparaiso on the board in the first quarter. Jesse Harper, a senior, joined in in the second with another 1-yard plunge after a 20-yard reception from junior CJ Opperman.
Opperman played one of his best games of the season, burning Penn for multiple chunk plays to Harper and Antonio Osorio, a junior. Harper's second touchdown of the night from 3 yards out effectively iced the game in the third quarter, as Penn couldn't get into Valparaiso territory until an Opperman fourth-quarter fumble.
Valparaiso had worked all season to erase the season-opening loss, and the Vikings did so with aplomb, as they advanced to face Crown Point in next week's regional championship.
“I was in tears. It seemed like we lost the game, with how emotional it was,” Kurth said. “I can't even describe how great this feels.”