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Valparaiso football coach Dave Coyle runs practice Wednesday September 25 2013. | Michael Gard/For Sun-Times Media

Valparaiso football coach Dave Coyle runs practice on Wednesday, September 25, 2013. | Michael Gard/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 28, 2013 7:40AM



VALPARAISO — There they go again. For the third straight season the Vikings started 0-2 with a very tough schedule.

Last year Valparaiso lost a pair of nonconference games to Penn and Carmel by a combined eight points. This season it was no contest as Penn and Homestead — both ranked in the Associated Press state top 10 in 6A at No. 2 and 9 respectively — beat the Vikings by a combined score of 70-17.

Over the last two campaigns, Valparaiso rebounded with two straight wins over LaPorte and Michigan City. But this time, the Vikings added a win over heated Duneland Conference rival Chesterton, coming back from a two-touchdown deficit to win 21-14.

It’s a different Valparaiso team — not just from last year, but from those first two games in which very little went right and the learning curve was enormous.

The lessons have paid off with balance on both sides of the ball.

“Facing quality teams like Penn and Homestead forces us to get ready quickly and also get ready for a tough Duneland schedule,” second-year coach Dave Coyle said. “There is never a team in the Duneland that makes for an easy Friday. It’s what makes this a quality conference.”

Some may downplay the wins over the LaPorte County contingent of the DAC, but coming back to edge Chesterton can’t be overlooked — especially after what happened last season.

“They beat us at our place last year pretty bad (48-14) and their fans ran out on the field — we remembered that,” said senior linebacker Michael Krutz, who has 32 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery this season. “After (falling behind 14-0), we just said no more and started making stops.”

Statistically, it wasn’t pretty since Chesterton racked up yardage. But after the two early TDs, it was lights out when it came to crossing the goal line.

Just don’t call it a “bend-but-don’t-break defense.” As a former defensive coordinator, Coyle can’t stand it.

“I hate that terminology,” he said with a smile. “But you look at the stats — Chesterton ran the ball well — and you wonder how we won that game. We have 11 players — actually 14 when you factor in replacements that are contributing — who are doing a phenomenal job. At no point did we see anyone worried or down and out. They continued to fight and stayed with the program.”

A phrase Coyle was OK with is “no-name defense” like the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins were nicknamed. His players like it, too.

“That honestly describes our (defense), working hard every play, every game,” Krutz said.

Fellow linebacker Angelo Madrigal, who leads the team with 53 tackles, agreed.

“I like that,” he said about the no-name moniker. “We don’t give up on anything. We want to get that DAC title back.”

The Vikings are counting on three key sophomores to help achieve that goal. On the no-name defense it’s free safety Austin Ford, who has 36 tackles and a fumble recovery, while on offense it’s running backs Bryce Crook and Dakota Overland. Crook has 130 yards rushing while Overland is second on the team with 287 yards on the ground.

Leading the team in rushing is senior quarterback David Hittinger. But he leads in more ways that than.

“He’s done a real nice job of making some good decisions and when plays aren’t there, he’s confident to find some holes and run the ball,” Coyle said. “That’s a big part of what the quarterback position is all about. He’s using his legs as well as he’s using his arm.

“He brought us back from 14 points against Chesterton. Now he didn’t do that by himself — the line contributed and the running backs were a major factor. But it seems like the offense jelled and that’s what David exudes in the huddle.”

Hittinger’s stats show the diversity of his game. He barely has more yards passing (443) than rushing (419), and the same amount of touchdowns (four) in both.

The senior has also found himself being a leader to those young running backs behind him in the formation.

“The young running backs we have are great guys,” Hittinger said. “I have to keep them positive when they’re getting down so they rebound from mistakes.”

One of those was a fumble deep in Chesterton territory, but the offense came back in a big way. So has Hittinger the last three weeks after admittedly having more downs and ups in the first two weeks.

“The biggest difference from those first two games is the tradition in the DAC,” he said. “These games are bigger and we want to be the best in the Duneland.”

And so far, the Vikings are in a prime position to follow through on that mandate at 3-0, tied with Merrillville and Lake Central, and shouldn’t be underestimated.



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