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Clark attack: Valparaiso ground game packs a big punch behind junior quarterback

By CJ Peters

For JP On Preps

VALPARAISO — For the first two games of the season, Valparaiso used a two-quarterback system with senior Ian Wilson and junior Justin Clark.

“We’ve been taking the same reps, it’s been fun to compete and it’s made practice a lot more enjoyable and gives me something to look forward to,” Clark said. “We’re still in each other’s corner and we see out for each other.”

Coach Bill Marshall says the team grades its quarterbacks on three out of the four days of practice, and throughout the week Clark graded out higher, earning the starting nod for the first time this season.

Having made just one other start, that coming in the final week of the regular season last year, the junior signal caller could barely contain himself heading into Friday’s Duneland Conference opener wirth La Porte.

“I found out Wednesday and I’ve been excited since then,” he said. “The entire time before the game, I was just smiling from ear to ear, I just love football. I was ready to go.”

Running behind an offensive line that each goes 250 pounds or higher, Clark carried 18 times for 140 yards and two scores as Valparaiso piled up 261 yards on the ground in its 42-3 thumping of La Porte.

“Everybody is going to do that to us, we gotta learn how to stop power, they’re all watching film and doing the same thing” La Porte coach Bob James said. “We looked out there at the end of the game and we had one defensive line starter in there and that was the freshman (Lucas) Del Rio. We’re real patchwork on the D-line and unfortunately that showed, too. And as usual, their O-line is huge.”

Clark said he ‘loves’ the offensive line he gets to run behind. Listed at 165 pounds, which Marshall said still may be pushing it, Clark uses any slights on his build as a motivator.

“I play with a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “I know that I’m a little bit undersized, but I have a lot of heart and I like to play with it.”

Clark had a 10-yard TD run in the second quarter and a one-yard sneak in the third. He also completed 9-of-15 passes for 94 yards, missing a TD pass by a yard when the ball was fumbled as it was reached across the line, eventually recovered by the Vikings in the endzone.

“We were definitely clicking,” Clark said. “Coaches put in a great game plan and we had a lot of great reads that helped us get open. I started off a little slow in the passing game, but I felt like it started to click as the game went on.”

Marshall said both QBs are ‘very serviceable’ in terms of running the ball, but knows they’ll have to find some success throwing next week when it takes on Michigan City.

“Justin was able to get in there, all maybe 165 of him, and got behind the beef and found the holes and made some nice runs,” Marshall said. “We’re gonna continue with both QBs in the passing game, because you know Michigan City is gonna put eight, nine guys in the box and basically tempt us to throw the ball.”

Travis Davis opened the scoring for Valparaiso (2-1, 1-0) with a 38-yard TD run, bouncing off a couple La Porte tacklers. He ran 14 times for 111 yards.

Listed at 6-foot, 220, Davis is part of a trio of bruiser backs that includes Thomas Burda, who had a 4-yard TD run to cap the scoring, and Jacob Clardy, who was out Friday.

“We have been so fortunate for the last five years at the running back position bouncing between guys like Hayden Vinyard and Tommy Burbee for so many years,” Marshall said. “Having that two-back attack can really help us out. It keeps their legs fresh and you saw later in the game when we were able to pop off some long gains.”

On the first play from scrimmage, La Porte’s RJ Anglin lofted a dime for 32yards to Dylan Salisbury to get into Valpo territory, but Jack Doty missed right on a long field goal attempt. The pairing would connect for 30 yards on the next drive.

“Without giving too much away here, and I’ve been here for 28 years, Valpo always gives the short-side fade,” James said. “They’ve been doing it for so long, so we knew we could take a little advantage of that.”

La Porte reached Valpo territory on its first four possessions, but only came away with three points – a 36-yard field goal from Jack Doty with 11:38 in the second quarter.

“Early on, and I keep saying it over and over, it’s because we’re young and we’re misaligning, or gaps aren’t getting filled or we’re not getting to our reads fast enough because we don’t have that experience,” Marshall said. “But as soon as we get it cleaned and shored up, you can kind of see what we have, talent-based wise, coming through the pipeline. Zachary Brown did a terrific job as a senior leader for us, getting some of these guys that have rarely played, lined up and able to communicate.”

Valparaiso held Anglin to 19-of-42 passing and 150 yards and intercepted him three times, including a 20-yard TD return by junior linebacker Ty Veen on an Anglin last-ditch effort as he was being brought down.

“Ty has a motor,” Marshall said. “The big thing is, and we’re still working on getting the entire team into shape and Ty’s no different, is that sometimes the motor is there and sometimes he has to pull it back and catch his breath a little bit. But when he’s going, he’s going.

“He’s probably one of our hardest hitters on the team and we’ll continue to work on technique with him, like using his shoulder and not lowering his head, all that stuff. The defense is getting better week-by-week and getting everybody in games is huge for us and it’s kind of been a staple for us with our success to be able to play as many people as possible.”

Dylan Salisbury of La Porte leaps for a pass midst a group of Valparaiso defenders during Friday's game. Salisbury had seven catches for 99 yards in the 42-3 loss.

Photo by Susan Anglin

Salisbury, a 6-2, 180-pound junior wideout, had seven catches for 99 yards for La Porte (0-3, 0-1).

“We had to get him bought in,” James said. “I was on a Zoom call with his parents and told them, I’ve been here 25-plus years and Valpo always has these big, strong receivers and that’s what Dylan is. You put a green jersey on him, and he fits with that group.

“He’s certainly fun to coach. He comes to practice every day and works hard. I knew he had it in him.”

La Porte’s next opportunity for its first ‘W’ will be on Senior Night, playing host to Chesterton.

“We’re gonna keep fighting, we’re not broke, we can do some good things, but, boy, it’d be nice to hit paydirt once in a while,” James said. “I told them afterward, ‘That’s what I love about you guys, you don’t care what the down, distance, score is, you’re out there fighting.' Nobody’s pointing fingers and the kids love each other, and that’s what it’s all about.

"It’s still hard to swallow, no doubt about it. We come out here before the game and these guys are making me cry telling me, ‘We’re gonna play for ya', coach, we love ya’, and it’s an awesome feeling. I love them, they love me, they play hard and we coach hard. The tides are gonna turn. (La Porte baseball) coach (Scott) Upp will say ‘brick-by-brick.’ We just gotta keep laying the foundation.”

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