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Growing up fast: After reality check opening loss to Penn, young Valparaiso is back rolling again

MICHIGAN CITY -- There's an axiom in football that says, if you have two quarterbacks, you really have no quarterbacks.

Valparaiso would beg to differ.

"The competition the coaches put me and Justin (Clark) in just breeds success for both of us," Ian Wilson said. "You've got to be ready at any moment. Football is a next man up game. Whoever goes down, you've got to have someone to fill that spot. You're going to keep playing no matter what. I either let myself get in my own head and make it personal or do this for team. We've got to be each other's best friends to trust each other. There's no animosity. Justin was able to trust me to go in and I would do the same for him."

Clark, who started the last two games, limped off the field in the third quarter with the Vikings and Michigan City tied at 14-14 after rushing for 167 yards and a touchdown. Wilson, who started the season opener against Penn, came in to lead Valpo to three second-half scores, accounting for 124 yards (55 rushing, 69 passing) as the Vikings rolled to a 35-14 Duneland Conference victory Friday.

"(Clark) and (Thomas Davis) got us back, (Wilson) and (Rocco Micciche) took us the rest of the way," Valpo coach Bill Marshall said. "I can not say enough about the job (Wilson) did, but even with Justin battling us back, getting us to a point where we could get back to even. This is why we compete at practice, this is why we had two guys going into it. The margin of difference between every single week is miniscule. I think it helps. It allows them to flourish with competing with each other. There's going to be rough patches, things they don't like, but it's the process, and I think they're starting to realize that as well as the team."

The night couldn't have started much better for Michigan City, or worse for Valpo.

Cam Bell hyped the Ames Field home crowd with an 85-yard scoring dash on the opening kickoff.

On Valpo's sixth play, Marquez Dabney stepped in front of a Justin Clark pass and dashed 54 yards for another Wolves touchdowns.

Not even three minutes in and it was 14-0.

"It's a very mental game with this team right now," Wilson said. "Those two touchdowns weren't going to come off the board. We had to work with what we had. Down 14-0 against a good Michigan City team, it would've been easy for everything to go wrong, but it didn't. Either you let the game affect you or grit our teeth and do what we did."

Valpo (3-1, 2-0 Duneland Conference) hammered the Wolves (1-3, 1-1) for 336 yards on the ground. It completed just two passes, but the 31- and 37-yard Wilson strikes to Rocco Micciche set up scores by Travis Davis (110 yards, four TDs).

"I've been preparing the past two weeks," Wilson said. "We couldn't have done it without our line leading the way and Travis obviously running the ball. We need a safety net, we've got it. A kid that size has got potential, for how young he is, how quick and strong he is. It's such a great thing to have on offense. It was important in this game that we stay confident with a growth mindset. It was an assignment game and we followed what we needed to do."

The Vikings hadn't completed a pass and had given up the pick six when Wilson checked in, and promptly fired a 31-yard strike to Micciche to set up the go-ahead TD.

"We'd been so run heavy, a new quarterback comes in, you mix things up," Wilson said. "Whatever coach (Darren Rodriguez) was thinking, kudos to him on the call. They're an athletic team. Their DBs are quick. They were playing man the whole game. It was hard for us to throw the ball on them. They've got good coverage."

Marshall said they saw a match-up they liked with Micciche.

"... And obviously Ian's arm strength," he said. "Down and distance, we had field to work with being on the hash. It was a matter of exercising what they're really good at."

Valpo went on to shut out the Wolves offense, allowing no offensive touchdowns. City's only serious scoring threat came in the second quarter, when a pass on fourth and one at the Vikings 7 was broken up.

"We had to stop the run," Marshall said. "You have to take care of the two-headed beast in (Tyler) Bush and (Jaden) Hart It's tough to do. Looking at what they did to us last year, week four, they threw all over the place, but we were able to bottle up the run. In the regional, they moved the ball on the ground and had to take that away. We've progressively gotten better at tackling, rallying to the football, stripping at the ball. They got behind us a couple times, but we kept them from getting in the end zone. Things we knew they had to in certain downs and distances, we were able to bring pressure."

Wilson said the 35-6 loss to Penn was a reality check for the Vikings.

"Coming off the Penn loss, it was a big lesson for us with such a young team," he said. "They've seen the success of the past. They thought we were going to be a steamroll. In the past, it's been a very senior-heavy team. There's a whole new flow. Sophomores are starting. We've matured over the last two weeks."

Justin Clark races to a 55-yard touchdown for Valparaiso on Friday at Michigan City. Clark ran for 167 yards before a third-quarter injury. Photo by Michael Kellems

Valparaiso shut out Michigan City's offense Friday, allowing no points after a kickoff return and interception runback gave the Wolves a quick 14-0 lead in Friday's game. Photo by Michael Kellems

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