Grinding it out: GVSU holds off Ashland in defensive showdown
112 yards less than their opponents on offense? 15 minutes and six seconds less possession time? 30 less plays run?
Not a problem for the No. 9 ranked Grand Valley State Lakers, who managed to overcome significant statistical differences against the Ashland Eagles to win 20-17 at home on Saturday, Nov. 3 to secure the program’s 400th all-time win. The victory brings GVSU to 9-1 (6-1 GLIAC) while AU falls to 5-4 (5-2).
“We don’t obsess about time of possession. We don’t obsess about yards. We don’t obsess about plays run,” said head coach Matt Mitchell. “We obsess about two things: turnovers and explosive play differential.”
Their obsessions were rewarded, as the Lakers won in both categories.
GVSU ripped off two game-changing plays in the first half, starting with an interception by Jacob Studdard while the Eagles were in the red zone, which he would return 78 yards into the opposite red zone, setting up an 11-yard Jack Provencher touchdown.
“With preparation, I’ve been playing corner all week, the last two weeks. I’ve been playing safety the whole season but (I was) playing corner today,” Studdard said. “We were in man, the guy motioned, so we went into a combo situation so I backed off. The guy in motion ran, like, a stick route and came in. I broke on it and as I was breaking on it he tipped it and I caught it and went for the run, tried to cut back on the quarterback and he caught my shoestrings.”
On the next Laker drive, which followed a 19 play, 10 minute possession by Ashland resulting in a field goal, running back Chawntez Moss took the first play 73 yards for a touchdown.
“To get the first long run like that of the season, it’s definitely something we’ve been waiting on, something we’ve been waiting to see,” Moss said. “It definitely was a spark for our team and gave us a lot of momentum.”
All of that would have been for naught, though, had kicker JJ McGrath not connected on a 23-yard field goal with 15 seconds remaining to win the game. McGrath made two field goals and two extra points, making him the Lakers’ “leading scorer” on the night – though he didn’t want to take all of the credit.
“Those are easy kicks thanks to our offense putting us in a position, not only where are, I think on, like, the six yard line, it’s essentially (an extra point), but we were on the middle of the field, so those are easy kicks thanks to our offense and the coaching staff,” McGrath said.
Due to the limited snaps – GVSU ran 44 plays compared to AU’s 77 – the offense was never able to find much of a groove as their longest scoring drive lasted less than five minutes. As a result, quarterback Bart Williams threw only 17 passes, completing nine for 132 yards. His two longest completions of the days, though, were 29 and 33 yard hookups with wide receiver Brandon Wadley to set up McGrath’s converted field goals.
Wadley led the receiving unit in both catches (three) and yards (77). Moss (nine carries for 95 yards) and Provencher (15 for 85) mainly handled the offensive load as they each scored one of the team’s two touchdowns and accounted for about 60 percent of GVSU’s total offense.
The Lakers were all over the field defensively with 21 different players making a tackle while eight recorded at least five, led by linebacker Tyler Bradfield with 10 tackles.
With the win, GVSU will head into the final game of the regular season as near-locks for a Division II playoff berth. The Lakers will host the Wayne State Warriors (2-8, 1-6) on Saturday, Nov. 10 with kickoff scheduled for 1 p.m.