GV prepares to host struggling Northern Michigan
GVL / Robert Mathews
Sophomore Kirk Spencer
Three losses proved to be one too many in the previous two years for the Grand Valley State University football team.
Both seasons, GVSU missed the playoffs with an 8-3 record. Now, the Lakers (4-2, 2-2 GLIAC) find themselves with their backs against the wall with five games remaining in the season.
GVSU will start the second half of its schedule Saturday as it attempts to bounce back from its 54-44 loss to Ferris State University, hosting Northern Michigan University (1-4, 1-4 GLIAC) in this year’s annual Homecoming game.
“We’re not going to sit here and feel sorry for ourselves because no one’s going to feel sorry for us,” junior quarterback Heath Parling said. “I guess the best way to get over a tough loss is to just get back to work. We’re not going to sit here and dwell on the past. It’s time to move on and start focusing on the future.”
Northern Michigan enters this weekend’s contest riding a four-game losing streak. The Wildcats have had trouble producing offensively with an inconsistent quarterback situation. Cody Scepaniak started the year but left with a broken hand in the game against Ashland University. Dustin Thomas finished that game and started against Hillsdale College and Michigan Technological University, but Shaye Brown replaced him and finished the Michigan Tech game.
“All three have different styles of play, so it’s going to provide a challenge for us on the defensive side of the ball to try to figure out how they’re going to attack us and what they’re going to do,” GVSU head coach Matt Mitchell said. “They still like to get the ball in space and use the quarterback run game, so there’s some similarities there a little bit. We’re going to have to address some things that we weren’t very good at up at Ferris State in regards to them.”
Entering Saturday’s game, Thomas (219 yards) and Scepaniak (206 yards) were the rushing leaders for Northern Michigan. The quarterback run game could pose a threat to GVSU, since last week the Laker defense allowed 210 rushing yards to Ferris State quarterback Jason Vander Laan.
“We just gotta be ready to adjust to either guy that’s playing,” senior linebacker Charles Hill said about the Northern Michigan quarterback situation. “They throw the ball out in space, and we have to run and make some tackles. This week is more about speed and space and making tackles.”
Northern Michigan’s defensive coordinator, Joe Ballard, is one of Mitchell’s former players from Mitchell’s tenure as the defensive coordinator for GVSU during the national championship years.
Ballard will be tasked with the challenge of trying to stop his alma mater, which is averaging 36.3 points per game.
“They’re playing a lot of young guys—a lot of true freshmen and redshirt freshmen—on their defense,” Mitchell said. “I think at times there’s been some growing pains on that side of the ball as they attempt to get better. We have to get back to running the ball and protecting our quarterback, and being strong at the line of scrimmage is going to be a point of emphasis this week.”
At 2-2 in the conference, GVSU no longer controls its destiny in the GLIAC North. Saginaw Valley State University sits at 5-0, and Ferris State is in second with a conference record of 4-1.
For GVSU, the focus isn’t on the big picture, but instead on Northern Michigan.
“We’ve got five games left in front of us that we have to take one at a time,” Mitchell said. “Certainly, I’m not going to be ignorant of the fact that we’ve lost some control of the situation based on the two losses, but we can’t worry about that. We have to take care of what we can take care of, and that starts and stops with our preparation and our performance Saturday with Northern Michigan.”