Column: Eating my words
GVSU's win over FSU proves this writer wrong
I like my crow deep fried and covered in chocolate sauce. But it doesn’t really matter how you prepare it. I’ll eat it.
On Saturday, the Grand Valley State football team withstood the recent juggernaut of Ferris State to win 38-34 and advance to the NCAA Division II playoff quarterfinals. In a back-and-forth affair, the Lakers scored last and held the Bulldogs when it mattered most.
With the win, GVSU avenged a 61-24 beatdown at Lubbers Stadium in the third week of the 2015 season. With the win, GVSU moved one step further down the playoff road. With the win, GVSU made me eat my words.
After GVSU’s loss to FSU in the Anchor-Bone Classic on Sept. 19, I penned a column outlining why I believed FSU was the new best program in the state. I argued that, due to recent success and a string of wins over GVSU, the Bulldogs had taken the spot of top dawg in Michigan Division II football.
FSU quarterback Jason Vander Laan was the 2014 Harlon Hill award-winner, and has a legitimate chance to win it again this season. FSU had just annihilated GVSU. It was cut and dry to me.
Now, it’s time to admit my folly.
The truth is, sports are unpredictable. I made a knee-jerk reaction after a single game, dubbing FSU as the new GVSU. With GVSU’s last win, do you think anyone cares about that week three loss? Does that dominating victory mean more than GVSU’s playoff win over FSU? Absolutely not. I won’t use the word ‘upset’ here. Two top football programs went toe-to-toe. The first time, FSU came out on top. The second time, it was GVSU’s turn.
Sure, the Bulldogs were undefeated. They looked unstoppable. But to GVSU head coach Matt Mitchell and the rolling Lakers, each Saturday brings a new game. An 11-0 record means the same as an 0-11 record. Each week, it’s your group of players against theirs. One game is too little to make such a sweeping statement about the state of any football program.
And for my nearsighted column in mid-September, I deserve crow stew with crow salad and a crow-ca-cola.
With GVSU’s wins over FSU and Ashland in the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Lakers avenged their only two regular season losses on a stage far bigger than that of a GLIAC game. Mitchell and his staff matched wits with FSU coach Tony Annese’s staff, and did the same thing against Ashland head coach Lee Owens.
When two teams have played each other already in the same season, extra emphasis is put on coaching and preparation for the rematch. Sure, coaches can still pull out tricks and toy with deception (Nice throw, Marty. Nice catch, Bart.), but the basics are on the table. Mitchell and his staff deserve a mountain of credit for GVSU’s win and ability to adjust against one of the most difficult-to-defend offenses in Division II football.
Football coaches, however, are happy to deflect praise. They’re also happy to throw out the word ‘execution’ when referring to the performances of their players. Without effective game-planning, player execution only counts for so much. Without execution, game-planning never gets a chance to get off the ground. To beat a team like FSU, a healthy combination of the two is a must.
So, credit to Mitchell. Credit to GVSU quarterback Bart Williams, who has called signals like a veteran in his first year under center for the Lakers. Credit to the GVSU defense, which collared the Bulldogs in pressure situations late in the game. The Lakers executed.
In my previous column, I wrote that, “The Bulldog has devoured the Laker.” I’m not going to definitively flip that statement. As I learned in the weeks after FSU’s win at Lubbers, the result of one contest does not change the history of programs. GVSU is still the all-time winningest program in college football history. The Lakers still put a highly competitive unit on the football field nearly every season.
I’m not here to say the Lakers are back, because that would validate my earlier misguided statement that they had ever left. I’m not here to pretend that I didn’t believe what I wrote at the time, because that would be nothing but a lame cop-out. I’m not here to make another damn sweeping generalization.
I’m just here to eat some crow.