GV football moves onto the final four
GVL / Robert Mathews
Head Coach Matt Mitchell
They’re not there yet, but the Grand Valley State University football team is almost at a familiar place, the top of the Division II football ranks.
GVSU (12-2) defended its home field for the ninth time in as many tries to come back and defeat West Texas A&M University (11-3) 35-28 to move onto the Division II semifinals, where they will travel to face Northwest Missouri State University.
“I think another game that shows the type of team we got,” GVSU head coach Matt Mitchell said. “We got a bunch of guys that are fighters. They don’t quit. They’re blue-collar. They keep coming out and keep swinging. There’s a lot of faith in each other.”
At the start, West Texas A&M looked like the explosive offense they were hyped to be coming into the game.
Senior quarterback Dustin Vaughan placed a perfect ball intended for junior wide receiver Anthony Johnson along the right sideline, which resulted in a 33-yard touchdown pass to put West Texas A&M up 7-0.
Unable to get anything going on its first drive, GVSU was forced to punt and give the ball back to Vaughan and the Buffalo offense. Vaughan capitalized with a 13 play, 73-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown pass to senior Jace Jackson.
For the second straight week, GVSU trailed early. Last week the Lakers spotted Colorado State Pueblo-University 16 points, and on this day, GVSU founds themselves down 14-0 early on.
Similar to last Saturday, GVSU rallied once more.
“Even though we weren’t playing great defense in the first half, there was nothing in our sidelines at any point in time,” Mitchell said. “We kept battling and finding a way to win.”
Senior wide receiver Brandan Green caught a screen pass and broke numerous tackles on his way to a 36-yard touchdown reception to finally put GVSU on the scoreboard.
West Texas A&M responded on its next drive, as Vaughan found senior wide receiver Torrence Allen on a slant pass for a 1-yard touchdown pass to give the Buffaloes a 21-7 lead.
After being considered 50/50 for Saturday’s game due to an ankle injury, sophomore running back Kirk Spencer’s ankle looked alright on a 46-yard touchdown.
Spencer lined up on junior quarterback Heath Parling’s right side out of the shotgun, and at the snap, Parling pitched it out to Spencer on the shovel pass, who outran the West Texas A&M defense, and delivered a stiff arm near the goal line to ensure that he scored.
Vaughan tossed his fourth touchdown pass of the half when he threw it up to Johnson, who leapt over senior cornerback Michael Hatcher to come down with the 11-yard touchdown pass, which put West Texas A&M up 28-14.
“Their offense was as good as advertised,” Mitchell said. “Dustin Vaughan is a great player.”
Opening the second half with the ball, GVSU went 71 yards on nine plays, and capped off the drive with a 2-yard touchdown pass from Parling to junior tight end Joe Wirth, who was wide open after the play-action to make it 28-21, West Texas A&M.
In the first half, Vaughan was on fire, completing 23 of 31 passes for 293 yards passing and four touchdowns, but it was a different story in the second half, as the West Texas A&M offense only managed 124 yards of total offense in the final half.
“In the first half, they were giving up a lot of underneath stuff,” Vaughan said. “We were able to pick them apart in certain ways with shorter routes, and kind of nickel and dime it down the field and I don’t know how they changed it as far as coverage wise, but they pressed us a lot and we couldn’t get off the press as much as we did in the first half, and they brought some pressures that were very successful against us upfront. Congrats to them for being such a good team, making such good adjustments at halftime.”
On the season, Vaughan entered this game with seven interceptions on 619 pass attempts. In the third quarter alone, he threw three picks.
Junior Deonte’ Hurst was the recipient of the first errant pass from the senior quarterback. Junior DeVonte’ Jones caught the second, and senior Reggie Williams came up with the third miscue by Vaughan.
“Honestly, the first one he made a great play,” Vaughan said. “Second one, ball came out wrong and just didn’t go where I wanted it to, (and) made a bad decision on the last one. Shouldn’t have thrown that ball, should’ve just taken the sack and went to the next play. I’ll take those three, but Grand Valley is a great defense.”
While West Texas A&M was floundering, Parling and GVSU took advantage.
Facing a third-and-nine from its own 12, GVSU called a run. The play call caught the Buffalo defense off-guard, and Spencer ran it in for his second touchdown of the game to make it 28-28.
“I think at that point, with that down and distance, we said if we don’t get it, we’ll kick a field goal,” Mitchell said. “I think Coach Morrison (offensive coordinator) noticed they were playing a little bit of a coverage look, and we checked to an outside zone play and we did a good job of blocking it up, and Kirk from my vantage point, broke a couple of tackles and got in there and made a great play.”
For the third time in the last four games, Parling finished a game with at least four touchdown passes. His fourth one of the day was a 16-yard pass that went to Potts and gave GVSU its first lead of the game.
“If I could have walked out there and told Jamie what to do, that would have been exactly it,” Parling said. “He kind of made up a route on the run a little bit and that’s exactly what I wanted him to do… He made a great catch with the safety flying over there with his hands in his face.”
Parling finished the day completing 16 of 32 passes for 219 yards passing, four touchdowns, and one interception.
After a solid first half, and a poor second half, Vaughan managed to convert 36 of 56 passes for 397 yards passing, four touchdowns, and three interceptions.
The win marks the Lakers first trip to the semifinals since 2009, when GVSU made it all the way to the finals. Saturday’s game time in Missouri is still being determined, since ESPN3 will be televising the game and has the final say on the start time.
Look for the full recap in Monday’s edition of the Lanthorn.