Culver Academy blanks Valley in opener
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
AKRON — On a night that emphasized social distancing and safety at Smith-Bibler Memorial Field - Home of Death Valley Football, it was Culver Academy who kept the host Tippecanoe Valley football team a good distance from the end zone Friday.
Backup quarterback Jimmy Pisani threw a touchdown pass and ran for a touchdown, and the Culver Academy defense held Valley to one first down in the second half in beating the Vikings 16-0. Valley had 133 yards of offense in the first half and -5 in the second half. Their only first down in the second half came by penalty. Valley never took an offensive snap from Eagle territory in the second half. Wade Melanson and Hunter Eherenman had interceptions for Valley. Braden Shepherd had 73 yards rushing before leaving with what coach Stephen Moriarty called a “stinger” in the second half. The loss was Valley’s first by shutout since a 51-0 loss to Culver Academy in 2018. Valley also lost their season opener for the 10th straight year. They have not won a nonconference regular season game since beating Bremen at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis in August 2012. They have not won a nonconference game at home since beating Culver Academy on Aug. 20, 2010. The loss was a setback for the revamped Valley offense, which features new quarterback Branson McBrier and a greater emphasis on a vertical passing attack. Valley scored 10 touchdowns in their scrimmage against Knox six days earlier. “A lot of the time, they made some adjustments,” Moriarty said. “And for us, it was trying to make the fact that most of the situations we were having to play long yardage and we had to pass it, and they sent more than we could block almost. We were tired, and that’s my fault for not having them more in condition.” But after not committing a turnover in the scrimmage, they turned the ball over in their first two possessions against CMA. They committed a third turnover on a fumbled kickoff in the fourth quarter.
“We went to a more of a three-man front and brought an extra safety in,” Culver Academy coach Andrew Dorrel said. “I think that helped. We got a little more run support there. We had some kids that were getting pretty winded, so we tried to rotate a little bit more on defense to keep some fresh legs out there.”
Valley’s best chance to score came after defensive tackle Wade Melanson’s interception on a tipped pass with 2:52 left in the first quarter. A 16-yard Braden Shepherd run gave them a first down at the Culver Academy 28, and they would eventually get as far as the Culver Academy 26. But a false start penalty and a one-yard loss on a reception by Shepherd on fourth down ended the drive. Shepherd had a 13-yard run on Valley’s next drive, but an Eli Pack sack of McBrier eventually led to a 40-yard punt from freshman Wade Jones. The Eagles responded with a four-play, 70-yard drive, which Pisani capped with a 42-yard touchdown pass to an open Jaxon Mull on a seam route. When Pisani found Cooper Farrall, who started the game at quarterback before being replaced by Pisani, on a fade pass in the right corner of the end zone for a two-point conversion, Culver Academy led 8-0. The touchdown pass to Mull was one of just two passes that Culver Academy completed. “They did a good job of recognizing our coverage,” Moriarty said. “We ran different coverages to try and stop the run, and they found our weakness there. We ran it too much and skipped in and out of it, which is my fault.” Valley’s lone first down in the second half came on a fourth-and-one play in the third quarter when McBrier’s hard cadence caused Culver Academy to jump for an offsides penalty. But two plays later, McBrier was sacked and Valley would eventually have to punt. “Branson did well,” Moriarty said. “He did what he could.” Eherenman’s interception with 5:32 left in the game stopped a 10-play Culver Academy drive, but the Eagles scored after another Valley three-and-out possession when Pisani weaved through the Valley defense on a 29-yard run with 2:17 left. Pisani’s two-point conversion run on a quarterback draw completed the scoring.
“Just watching Valley, they are a much improved football team than what they’ve been in the past,” Dorrel said. “I give coach Moriarty a lot of credit. If they don’t drop two or three passes, this is a different football game. But I’m really proud of our guys and how we rallied at half to make the most of the opportunity tonight.”
Moriarty said the health and conditioning of his team is his biggest concern. Senior receiver Jacob Davis also had to be helped off the field, though Moriarty said he felt that Davis just had the wind knocked out of him. “We’re working the bugs out of everything,” Moriarty said. “The offense, the defense. We’re a good football team. We played a good football team. They pushed us to our limits tonight, and we were able to find some things we need to work on for next week against Northfield.”
Valley had to play a lot of assignment football on defense to handle Culver Academy’s option. “That’s the same thing that Northfield runs, so we’ll have to be ready,” Moriarty said.