Merrillville pulls it out late over ValparaisoMerrillville's Cortez Sims hauls in a pass from Jake Raspopovich ahead of Valparaiso's Joe Gallinatti in the second quarter Friday night at Valparaiso High School. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 1, 2011 4:22PM
VALPARAISO — With the way both offenses were moving the ball for most of Friday night, the game had that feel of whichever team had it last would win.
And, more or less, that was the case.
Kourtney Berry’s second touchdown run of the game, a 1-yarder with 17.0 seconds left, lifted Merrillville to a dramatic 31-28 victory against Valparaiso.
As part of a stellar game, junior quarterback Jake Raspopovich guided the go-ahead 17-play, 74-yard drive that consumed 5:07.
“We were moving the ball good the whole game,” Raspopovich said. “I just thought we were going to do what we were doing the whole game — move the ball down the field and score.
“We needed to execute and we did.”
Raspopovich completed 18-of-28 passes for 237 yards and a touchdown, and ran for 121 yards on 23 carries.
“He’s definitely a gamer,” Pirates coach Zac Wells said. “He has a great understanding of the game. He sees the game.
“I definitely enjoy having him back there when we need those drives.”
Matt Warren had kicked a 22-yard field goal to give Merrillville (4-3, 4-1 Duneland Conference) a 24-21 lead with 6:36 left in the fourth quarter.
But Valparaiso (3-4, 3-2) came right back with Stephen Simms’ 3-yard touchdown run, his third TD of the game, to take a 28-24 lead — its first lead of the game — with 5:25 left, the first play after Andrew Kittridge had ripped off a 49-yard run.
The Pirates, though, had one more response.
“For us, we kept hoping our defense would get a stop and we could go up two scores, but we’ll take it,” Wells said.
Aaron Dye had a huge game for the Pirates, catching nine passes for 121 yards. Darryl Peppers added 90 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries.
Kittridge ran for 93 yards on 14 carries for the Vikings, and Simms had 83 and the three touchdowns on 11. Paul Andrie completed 9-of-20 passes for 193 yards with an interception and a touchdown, a 64-yarder to Ryan Nix, who had three catches for 107 yards.
Valparaiso had tied the score at 14-14 on the second play of the second half, as Andrie connected with Nix for that 64-yard touchdown with just 57 seconds elapsed.
But Merrillville answered with Raspopovich’s 27-yard touchdown pass to Brian Jenkins with 7:01 left in the third quarter.
The Vikings tied the score at 21-21 on Simms’ 15-yard touchdown run with 2:06 left in the third.
The teams had combined for three straight touchdowns in the first half, each on a sustained drive, with Merrillville scoring two.
The Pirates took a 14-7 halftime lead on Peppers’ 2-yard touchdown run with 5:24 left in the second quarter.
The Vikings had tied the score at 7-7 on Simms’ 4-yard touchdown run with 9:21 left in the half.
Merrillville took a 7-0 lead on Berry’s 3-yard touchdown run with 2:07 left in the first quarter.
The Pirates scored those opening points after the Vikings recovered a fumble at the Merrillville 8-yard line but wound up missing a 25-yard field goal.
That back-and-forth scoring stretch ended when Merrillville’s William Isabell intercepted a pass at the Pirates 27 with 3:32 left in the half.
Before the game, Valparaiso retired the No. 3 of 2003 graduate Jeff Samardzija.
Surrounded by family and friends, the Cubs pitcher and former Notre Dame star wide receiver was presented with a framed jersey by Jason Renn, the standout quarterback on those highly successful Vikings teams.