No. 17 Lakers travel to Tiffin in GLIAC match
GVSU looking to avoid back-to-back losses, keep playoff odds high
The Grand Valley State football team took a step back last week in a 45-31 loss to No. 5 Ashland.
The No. 17 Lakers will have to take a step or two forward each of the last two weeks of the season as 2015 NCAA Division II playoffs loom.
“I have no doubt that our team’s going to come together,” said running back Kirk Spencer. “We’re a team that comes together when we’re faced with adversity. We just have to make sure that we can’t let the (Ashland) loss amount to another loss.”
GVSU’s first move forward will come this weekend against Tiffin (5-4, 4-4 GLIAC) on Saturday in Tiffin, Ohio.
Tiffin has a strong offense that starts and ends with junior quarterback Antonio Pipkin, who is in his third season calling the shots for the Dragons.
Pipkin is a dual-threat option, but the Lakers have seen his like before.
The junior leads the team in rushing yards with 703 on 106 attempts, to go with eight touchdowns. While Pipkin is plenty comfortable in open space, the pocket doesn’t unnerve him either.
Pipkin has completed 64 percent of his passes for 2,629 yards and 25 touchdowns. His five interceptions suggest that, if his receivers are locked down by the opposing secondary, he’s happy to tuck and run down field.
“We have a lot of great quarterbacks in this conference this year and he’s one of them,” said GVSU head coach Matt Mitchell. “He can beat you not only with his arm but he can beat you with his feet too. He’s a basketball player and he’s a very good athlete.”
GVSU has seen mobile quarterbacks in Southwest Baptist’s Trent Edwards III, Ferris State’s Jason Vander Laan and, to an extent, Michigan Tech’s Brandon Cowie.
GVSU’s pass rush, a strength all season, forces quarterbacks to make quick decisions or flee the pocket for fear of an unwelcome introduction to the turf. Pipkin may be at his most dangerous outside of the pocket, so it will be up to GVSU’s linebackers to corral Pipkin before he hits the deep levels of the Laker defense.
Pipkin spreads the ball around to a trio of experienced receivers – Pedro Correa, Charles Holland and Tony Shead – each of whom have 45 catches or more in 2015. The Laker secondary was shredded by Ashland’s strong passing attack last week, and will have to bounce back and lock down a number of receiving threats to limit the Dragons’ dynamic offense and prevent explosive plays.
Defensively, Tiffin boasts the top passing defense in the GLIAC in terms of yards allowed.
Laker quarterback Bart Williams has put together a string of quality starts in recent weeks. Williams shows no reluctance to throw the deep ball, and receivers Matt Williams, Jamie Potts and Nick Dodson have complied with his attempts to hit the home run ball.
"Bart Williams right now is playing well, playing very confident,” Mitchell said. “I think we have a great collection of wide receivers that are all working together and we’re getting production out of a lot of different guys in our passing game.”
GVSU could again be without star wideout Brandon Bean, who has been sidelined with an ankle injury since Oct. 17.
The Lakers will need to win out to have a shot at making the playoffs. Following the contest against Tiffin, GVSU will square off against Saginaw Valley State (1-8, 1-7 GLIAC) at home in the Battle of the Valleys. In years past, the Cardinals have been a formidable opponent for the Lakers. This likely won’t be the case in 2015. Tiffin should be GVSU’s last true test for the regular season.
Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Saturday at Frost-Kalnow Stadium in Tiffin, Ohio.