No. 14 GVSU avoids upset against SVSU
Lakers edge rival Cardinals in Battle of the Valleys
On Saturday afternoon, Matt Judon charged onto the field, a French flag hoisted in his right arm, rippling in the wind. The Lakers had a rivalry game with crucial playoff implications ahead, but, for a moment prior to the game, Grand Valley State's sentiments were elsewhere, giving a show of support for the victims of the attacks in Paris.
Before the greatly anticipated Battle of the Valleys showdown began, the attendees at Lubbers Stadium turned their thoughts to those in mourning or still searching for loved ones across the pond. Included in their thoughts was Carter Brown, a GVSU student who is currently studying abroad in Paris. Brown checked in with administrators early Saturday morning, confirming his safety.
About three hours later, GVSU football effectively confirmed its playoff safety.
The No. 14 Lakers improved to 9-2 overall, beating Saginaw Valley State 24-17 to narrowly avoid a stunning upset and likely secure a playoff bid.
"(It was a) hard-fought victory. Credit to Saginaw," said GVSU head coach Matt Mitchell. "We knew coming in they had a physical defense, and said that all week, and they did."
With the loss, SVSU dropped to 1-10 to wrap up its season, marking the worst season in program history.
GVSU's offense tied its fewest points of the season, scoring 24 points against an SVSU defense that averaged 31.1 points per game heading into the game.
The high-powered Laker offense gained yards easily enough, but lacked consistency, ball security and a finishing punch in the 45th football version of the Battle of the Valleys.
The Lakers looked dominant early, scoring on two first-quarter marches with ease, while limiting SVSU’s offense to next-to-no progress.
The rest of the game was a different story. GVSU quarterback Bart Williams was intercepted twice in the first half – one of which turned into a 97-yard pick six for SVSU’s Matt McKoy.
Despite the interceptions, Williams kept taking shots downfield. The sophomore quarterback connected with junior Matt Williams on a number of deep jump balls, and found Jamie Potts downfield on a few occasions, but GVSU couldn't find the end zone.
The Laker defense picked up the slack left by the offense, keeping GVSU ahead for the entirety of the contest.
"Our defense basically gave up one (touchdown) and we had a guy fall down in man coverage. Other than that they played extremely hard and gave us a chance to win that football game," Mitchell said.
The Cardinals used two quarterbacks in the contest – Brad Odeman Jr. and Jacob LeClair – the two of whom combined to go 23-of-42 for 247 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
LeClair proved to be the more efficient of the two, leading Mitchell to speculate that his defense knocking out Odeman Jr., the starting quarterback, may have hurt the Lakers.
GVSU jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, thanks to a 1-yard touchdown rush from Kirk Spencer and an acrobatic one-handed catch from 33 yards out by Jamie Potts.
The Cardinals got on the board with a 25-yard Alex Kenrick field goal, and, minutes later with GVSU driving, SVSU’s Matt McKoy jumped a Bart Williams pass and returned it 97 yards for a touchdown.
GVSU held a slim 14-10 margin going into the second half.
The Lakers came out and got on the board on the first drive of the third quarter, as Joel Schipper knocked in a 26-yard field goal.
Early in the fourth quarter, GVSU struck again, at Bart Williams hit Matt Williams for a 15-yard touchdown.
The Williams-to-Williams score put GVSU 24-10. With the Laker defense caging the Cardinals, it was enough to secure to GVSU win.
SVSU stuck around, scoring on a 33-yard touchdown pass from LeClair to Marq Johnson to draw within 24-17, but GVSU iced the game with a clock-eating drive.
"At the end of the day, I think the biggest thing to take away from this game – we found a way to run the ball when we had to run the ball," Mitchell said. "Credit to our offense to find a way to not put our defense on the field on that last possession."
Spencer was quietly effective on the ground for the Lakers, gaining 144 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries, including a number of late touches.
"I didn’t really think about the 100 yards rushing, I just wanted to will the team and do whatever I could to get a win," Spencer said. "Getting to the playoffs was the main thing and beating Saginaw is the second thing."
GVSU outgained SVSU 463 yards to 337.
Bart Williams finished 15-of-27 for 299 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. Williams moved into a tie with Brad Iciek for fourth all-time in single season passing touchdowns at GVSU with 35.
With the win, GVSU improves to 34-11 all-time against SVSU.
Seniors Matt Judon, Jim Walsh, Brandon Revenberg, Derek DeLuca, Ben Hutchins, Brad Horling, Justice Wright, Christian Harris, Potts and Spencer were recognized before the game as they played likely their last career game at Lubbers Stadium.
The Lakers will open the NCAA playoffs with a rematch against GLIAC foe Ashland (10-0, 9-0 GLIAC) on Saturday at noon in Ashland, Ohio. GVSU earned the No. 6 seed in Super Region Four, and Ashland earned the No. 3 seed. The top seven seeds made the playoffs.