Laker defense, Brandon Bean carry GVSU football to Senior Day victory
Last regular-season win over Tiffin not enough to secure playoff spot
Editor's note: This article, originally published online Saturday, Nov. 11, has been updated to include playoff information not available at the time of initial publication.
The Grand Valley State Lakers sent their seniors out of Lubbers Stadium with a decisive win over the Tiffin University Dragons 45-7 Saturday, Nov. 11. The victory brings GVSU’s final regular-season record to 8-3 (7-2 GLIAC), while Tiffin ends up at 6-5 (5-4 GLIAC).
Following the delivery of the game ball by paratroopers draped in red, white and blue in celebration of Veterans Day, the Dragons opened up with an early advantage following a 1-yard run by JaQuan Hardy.
The Lakers' run game was slow to take off in the absence of starter Martayveus Carter and took another blow in the first quarter when Bryce Young-Walls left the game with a broken clavicle.
The lead lasted for more than a full quarter before a long punt return by Brandon Bean set him up to catch an 8-yard touchdown from quarterback Bart Williams to tie the game at 7.
Running back Dre’on Kemp scored from 4 yards out with two minutes left in the first half to give the Lakers a 14-7 advantage they would bring into halftime. Heading into the break, GVSU had only 184 total yards of offense—compared to Tiffin’s 169—with 47 yards rushing and 137 through the air.
“At the beginning of the game, they came out and ran kind of a different front,” said head coach Matt Mitchell. “We were struggling a little bit to run the ball and get some clean pockets, so we weren’t too effective offensively at the beginning of the game. Our defense kept hanging in there and kept battling.”
The second half was all Lakers. They outscored the Dragons 31-0 in the latter half while finishing with a total of 450 yards and holding TU to 192.
While Kemp rumbled home another touchdown from 25 yards out and kicker J.J. McGrath knocked in a 24-yard field goal, the protagonist of the game was Bean.
Heading into the half with six catches for 51 yards and a touchdown is good for most receivers. It wasn’t enough for No. 3, who would go on to catch eight more passes for 113 yards and three touchdowns in the second half alone to finish with a school record 14 receptions, 164 yards and four scores (tied for most in GVSU history).
In typical Bean fashion, he refused to take credit for the dynamite day: “It’s just Bart Williams. All our quarterbacks, they just put the ball away from the defense, and they make our receiving room, all of us, they make our jobs so much easier. You really see how phenomenal Bart is, and I’m lucky to have him.
“I had a lot of fun.”
To his credit, Williams played a solid game, completing 17 of 28 attempts for 226 yards and three touchdowns while working around two interceptions. Once the lead was large enough, Cole Kotopka took over for Williams at quarterback and threw 4 of 7 with 59 yards and one touchdown.
Kemp took care of business on the ground as well. The redshirt freshman took 23 carries for 98 yards and two touchdowns.
The Laker defense also performed well, forcing four turnovers—one of which was an interception by defensive lineman and senior Cody Moore—and keeping the Dragons under 200 total yards for the game. Additionally, the GVSU defense blocked a field-goal attempt, tallied three sacks and forced 10 Tiffin punts.
A handful of players stepped up in the face of injuries on the defense. Senior players Moore, Garrett Pougnet, Collin Schlosser, Kyle Short, Demetrius Farmer and Reggie Spearman all left their marks, coming up with a combined 12 solo tackles, five tackles for loss, two sacks, two fumbles forced and three fumbles recovered in Saturday’s game.
“Defensively, a lot of seniors stepped up,” Mitchell said. "For us to come in and beat them 45-7, I think, especially with some of the injuries we had, ... it was a credit to the character of our guys to come back out of the locker room and do what we did in the second half. Pretty dominating win.
“We had 16 seniors, you know? They have a GLIAC conference championship, a couple of deep playoff runs, a lot of that stuff on paper. But when you take a look at who they are as people, it’s a great group. Very impactful, but also a lot of stuff that you don’t see on the field in terms of their contributions to this program.”
With the victory, the Lakers sat teetering on the edge of their third straight NCAA playoff berth. However, the selection committee passed them up for fellow 8-3 team Harding, concluding the end of the Laker football season.
“You’re going to be hard-pressed to tell me that there’s a better 8-3 squad in the nation,” Mitchell said before the bracket was announced. “We had our opportunities, I understand that, but (we lost) all three games on the road by a combined total of 8 points. I think today kind of showed you even with a lack of depth the quality of the football program we have. Being 8-3, if there are other 8-3 squads that get in our region and we don’t, that’s a travesty.”
Even though they won't be advancing into the postseason, the seniors who will move onto the next chapters of their lives will always remember the lasting impact that GVSU—the place, the program and the people—has left on them.
“I don’t know if it’s possible to come out flat playing at Lubbers with the crowd that we’ve got, the atmosphere we’ve got,” Schlosser said. “The Grand Valley fan base and everything has just been so great to us and given us so many opportunities. That speaks with not only the fans but our Alumni Association. Grand Valley just means the world to us. It’s good to go out in Lubbers winning handily for our last game.”
His teammates concurred.
“Something that I’ll carry with me forever is what the fans, what the people, won’t see going on from the outside," Pougnet said. "All that stuff, the 6 a.m. workouts in the wintertime, getting together in the summer when everyone else is back home and being a team. Continuing to grow as individuals and as a team and just the overall process that as a player here at Grand Valley, it’s something that we continue to preach, and it’s something that can build you into a stronger person.
"I know it’s built me into a stronger person today, and I know that’ll continue to happen in years to come.”
As much as the school has done for the players who walked off the turf at Lubbers Stadium after a win one last time, it would be hard to imagine they have not done just as much, if not more, for the blue and black they represent.