Valparaiso outgains Dayton but loses season finale
By John Mutka Post-Tribune senior correspondent November 16, 2013 8:46PM
Updated: December 18, 2013 6:55AM
VALPARAISO — Valparaiso University keeps finding intriguing ways to lose, something interim coach Mike Gravier couldn’t cope with Saturday at Brown Field.
The Crusaders scored first for the seventh time this season and outplayed Dayton, but trailed by 14 on offensive giveaways in the last four minutes before the half.
Nick Weston and Colin Monnier turned second quarter interceptions into touchdowns, snapping a 10-10 tie in the last four minutes on returns on 35 and 60 yards, respectively, totrigger a season-ending 45-20 loss.
It was a nightmarish sequence for quarterback Eric Hoffman, who broke a single-season VU record for completions (252), and threw two touchdown passes to Tanner Kuramata.
Before finishing 1-10 for the third straight season the Crusaders outgained Dayton (7-4, 5-3 PFL) 427-369, mainly because Kuramata collected 200 yards on 10 catches, and Tony Taibi picked up a 70-yard reception for the third straight game.
Kuramata finished the season with a team-leading 879 yards on 57 catches, none more spectacular than his third-quarter score. Running straight down the middle, he was sandwiched between two defenders who deflected the pass.
“They came together and tipped it,” said Kuramata, who made a juggling, running catch and sprinted 76 yards to the end zone. “I turned and there it was. I wasn’t expecting that at all.”
Despite the loss Kuramata remains upbeat. The talented junior expects an upgrade next season. “We only have 11 seniors.”
Gravier praised the Crusaders for maintaining their competitive spirit. Defensively, they labored with seven or eight freshmen and sophomores much of the time.
“Quite frankly, physically they weren’t ready,” he said.
Gravier, referred to the interceptions and Gary Hunter’s record 100-yard kickoff return in the second half as game-changers.
“Take them away and it’s a 24-20 game,” he said. “It’s the epitome of what the season’s been like. You could take away three plays from every game and they’re all completely different.”
Because deposed coach Dale Carlson called the plays, his early dismissal required adjustments during the one-week transition period. Alex Bailey and Gravier shared that responsibility, but both coaches are relative newcomers to the program.
“I can’t give Alex enough credit for calling the pass plays, he did a good job of putting us in good positions,” said Gravier, who handled the running calls.