Valparaiso hopes to rebound against young Mercer
By John Mutka Post-Tribune senior correspondent October 11, 2013 8:42PM
Updated: November 13, 2013 6:13AM
How’s this for a short-lived rivalry?
Valparaiso will be visiting Mercer for the first time Saturday, but the Pioneer Football League game will probably be their last get-together, according to Coach Dale Carlson.
“They’re moving to the Southern Conference next year, which offers (athletic) scholarships,” he said. “So we won’t be playing them again in the forseeable future.”
Mercer, based in Macon, Ga., is a first-year program. Talk about a quick turn-around. The Bears bring a 4-1 record into the 11 a.m. kickoff, but it’s deceiving.
“Their first three wins were against first-year programs,” Carlson said.
The Bears opened PFL play with a victory over Drake, but the Bulldogs self-destructed.
“Drake turned the ball over seven times,” Carlson said.
Last week Mercer imploded at San Diego, losing 45-13.
On the opposite end of the country the Crusaders (1-4) flattened out at Marist. After ringing up 31, 34 and 49 points in three previous games they fizzled 37-0.
Valparaiso never recovered from an early 14-0 deficit, which included a turnover touchdown. Despite quarterback Eric Hoffman’s impressive first quarter, the Crusaders seldom crossed midfield.
“Eric hit 13 of his first 15 passes for 93 yards, but completed only five the rest of the game,” said Carlson, who blamed poor execution by VU’s wide receivers. “We weren’t sharp running our routes.”
Valparaiso played without tailback Jake Hutson, who suffered a season-ending knee injury. Brandon Hall stepped up with 68 yards on 14 carries and caught two passes, but ace receiver Fred Gladney was limited to two catches for 19 yards.
Searching for positives, Carlson was encouraged by VU’s defense.
“Our missed tackles were way down,” he said.
Middle linebacker Alex Green led VU with 11 solos and three assists. Safety Melvin Graham III added four solos, collected an interception and recovered a fumble.
Run-oriented Mercer builds its offense around Payton Usher, who has rushed for 483 yards and is averaging 6.3 per carry.
“He’s only 5-7, 162 but has gotten yards against everybody,” Carlson said, adding a warning. “We can’t get too caught up in stopping him because their quarterback (John Russ) has made some big plays.”
Wide receiver JT Palmer has provided most of the overhead damage. He caught four passes for 100 yards and returned five punts for 58 yards against San Diego. Overall, he is credited with four touchdowns in only 15 receptions.
All three skill players are sophomores.