GVSU football moves on to the Final Four
GVL / Hannah Mico
Kirk Spencer (sophomore) charging forward to make the last touchdown of the first half of the Lakers’ game against West Texas A&M University.
With the game on the line, Grand Valley State University’s junior quarterback Heath Parling knew what he was going to do, even before the snap.
Up seven and facing a third-and-7 with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter. GVSU decided to go for the win and call a pass, but it was Parling’s legs — not his arm — that sealed the Laker win.
Parling rolled out right and took off running for the first down. He cut to his left, ran through a couple of arm tackles, and eventually gained 12 yards, which was more than enough for the first down. Parling’s run sealed GVSU’s first trip to the Division II semifinals since 2009, as the Lakers (12-2) defeated West Texas A&M University (11-3) 35-28.
“I was pretty much running no matter what, to be honest with you,” Parling said. “I can’t sit up here and lie and say I saw coverage, but I was just running. Coach Ginn (quarterback’s coach) came over and told me if nothing’s there, just run the ball, so I was like, ‘Alright, sounds good.”’
While Parling and GVSU got the last laugh on Saturday, it was West Texas A&M quarterback Dustin Vaughan and the Buffalo offense that looked impressive early on.
Although it was snowing, cold and a little windy, Vaughan was on fire in the first half. The senior completed 23 of 31 passes for 293 yards passing and four touchdowns to give the Buffaloes a quick 14-0 lead and, eventually, a 28-14 advantage at halftime.
He made every throw when it mattered, and at times, the GVSU defense looked helpless. West Texas A&M did not punt in the first half and was 9 of 11 on third down conversions.
“The first half, it was rough,” senior cornerback Reggie Williams said. “He was throwing some amazing balls. He looked like Tom Brady out there, honestly.”
The second half was a different story.
Entering Saturday’s contest, Vaughan had just seven interceptions on 619 pass attempts. In the third quarter alone, he threw three picks on seven attempted passes.
Junior Deonte’ Hurst was the recipient of the first errant pass from the senior quarterback. Junior DeVonte’ Jones caught the second, and Williams came up with the third miscue by Vaughan.
“Honestly, (on) 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.”
In addition to forcing turnovers, GVSU limited West Texas A&M’s yardage. The Buffaloes were only able to rack up 124 yards of total offense in the second half.
“Heading into halftime, we made some defensive adjustments, but not that many, not as many as you might think based on the second half outcome,” GVSU head coach Matt Mitchell said. “I tell you, we weren’t getting much pressure out of our three-man rush at all. We were rushing three and dropping eight. So we definitely knew the second half, if we were going to go down, we were going to go down swinging, and we brought a little bit more pressure and did a few more things.”
After looking calm and poise in the pocket in the first half, Vaughan seemed to have jittery feet in the second and launched numerous inaccurate passes that went over his receivers’ heads or out of bounds.
With Vaughan struggling, GVSU’s offense took advantage. The Lakers outscored their opposition 21-0 in the third quarter to take a 35-28 lead.
On the go-ahead scoring drive, it wasn’t the offense making the biggest play of the series, but instead, the special teams.
With a fourth-and-6 from the West Texas A&M 34, Mitchell called a play GVSU has been working on the past few weeks — a fake punt.
“We’ve had it up and going here since the last regular season game against Saginaw,” Mitchell said. “I had a look that I thought would work, and it was my call.”
Sophomore Alton Voss ran for 18 yards on the fake punt to keep the Laker drive alive. Parling eventually found sophomore wide receiver Jamie Potts for the 16-yard touchdown pass to give GVSU the lead.
“I think (it’s) another game that shows the type of team we got,” 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.”
For the third time in the last four games, Parling had at least four touchdown passes. He 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. It was the fourth straight week that GVSU defeated a Harlan Hill Trophy finalist, which goes to the top player in Division II.
Hurst led the Laker defense with 15 tackles and was the only player in double-digit tackles.
GVSU will now travel to face Northwest Missouri State University (13-0) in the semifinals. The start time is still undetermined, and the game can be seen on ESPN 3.