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Bryce Derouin

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In 2010, Matt Mitchell made his debut as a head coach against West Texas A&M University.

On Saturday, he’ll make another coaching first against No. 19 West Texas A&M (11-2) as he takes his No. 22 Grand Valley State University football team (11-2) to play in a Division II quarterfinal game for the first time.

GVSU came away with the victory in 2010, winning 34-31, but since then, both programs have dealt with adversity.

The Lakers missed the playoffs for two straight years while dealing with a litany of injuries. Now, they’re in the process of attempting to get back to the top of the Division II ranks.

Meanwhile, West Texas A&M has had to get acquainted with a new head coach. Former head coach Don Carthel was fired 16 days before this season started after he misled the university about the purchase of baseball tickets for two players on the team. Mike Nesbitt, previously the offensive line coach, took over as interim coach for the Buffaloes with Carthel’s departure.

“Battle-tested team,” Mitchell called them. “A playoff caliber team that won our region last year, and they’ve gone on the road the last two weeks and beat seeds ahead of them. Just like us, they faced some adversity. Their head coach was let go at the beginning of the season. They’ve been through a lot.”

West Texas A&M snuck into the playoffs as a No. 6 seed—the last spot in the region—but has shown that it belongs. The Buffaloes defeated No. 3 University of Indianapolis 27-14 and No. 2 Ohio Dominican University 34-27. Ohio Dominican had defeated GVSU 57-14 earlier this season.

“They’re talented on both sides of the ball,” Mitchell said. “It’s a top-end D-II team. It’s a nationally prominent program like Grand Valley is, and so you’re going to see two teams that got a lot of talent on the field.”

After snap issues last week and a slow start overall, Mitchell addressed both points and stressed to his team how important a solid start will be against an explosive West Texas A&M team that averages 47.5 points per game.

“We had some seniors make some mistakes at the beginning of the game, and we can’t get off to that type of start again, or we’re going to be in trouble,” he said.

GVSU could potentially be without one of its biggest offensive playmakers.

Sophomore running back Kirk Spencer rolled his ankle on his final 57-yard run that sealed the game for GVSU last week. Mitchell planned to have Spencer sit out of practice Tuesday and Wednesday and evaluate to see if he can potentially take a few reps on Thursday.

“Spencer’s probably 50/50 with the ankle for Saturday,” Mitchell said.

With the potential absence of Spencer, the onus will be on the rest of the GVSU playmakers, including sophomore receiver Jamie Potts, who has accumulated 495 yards receiving and five touchdowns on 25 catches in the last five games.

“Having (quarterback) Heath (Parling) starting every game and being able to play throughout the course of the game has really helped,” Potts said. “Just getting more comfortable with the wide receiver position, switching from tight end, you know, it took awhile to get acclimated to it. I think those two things combined and the coaches putting us into good positions to make some plays has been really beneficial.”

Saturday will mark the ninth game at Lubbers Stadium this year for GVSU. The Lakers have thrived at home, going 9-0 inside their friendly confines.

“It’s amazing being back at Lubbers Stadium and having an opportunity to play football in general,” senior linebacker Charles Hill said. “It’s something special to be a part of because I’ve been here since ’09, been put out of the playoffs in the second round, and have not made the playoffs in two years. Having an opportunity to play football again and be in Lubbers Stadium is something special.”

The game is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. GVSU student tickets are free, while club seating is $25, priority reserved seating is $15, and reserved seating is $12.

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