Cardinal Down: GV wins Battle of the Valleys behind historic performance from redshirt freshmen running back


Grand Valley State wide receiver Brandon Wadley (8) dives to distance himself from an SVSU defender while making a catch at Lubbers Stadium. GVL \ Sheila Babbitt

Kellen Voss, Sports Editor

The No. 19 Grand Valley State football team got back to their winning ways Saturday, Oct. 12, as they were able to win the Battle of the Valleys, defeating Saginaw Valley State, 35-28.

The win came on the shoulders of redshirt freshmen Tariq Reid, who was forced to step up with the first three running backs on the depth chart all being out with injuries. Going into the game, he had nine carries for 56 yards through three games in 2019.

He did a bit better than that on Saturday, as Reid rushed the ball 39 times for 287 yards and three touchdowns, which yardage-wise was the second-best rushing performance in GVSU Football history. He was 12 yards short of breaking the school record.

Reid couldn’t have been more humble about his crown performance, as he credited the big dogs up front for making holes big enough for trucks to drive through.

“I was just in the moment, trying to execute for the team,” Reid said. “The O-line did a great job of blocking up front, they created a lot of holes, so we had a lot of explosive plays.”

GVSU Quarterback Cole Kotopka (7) steps up in the pocket and delivers a throw while offensive linemen Ethan Culberson (51), Matthew Stefanski (75) and Garrett Carroll (70) protect him from getting sacked by some SVSU pass rushers. That offensive line came through in the clutch, making holes and helping GVSU win the Battle of the Valleys, 35-28 GVL \ Sheila Babbitt

Reid’s performance was almost straight out of a movie, as GVSU coach Matt Mitchell said that athletes looking to earn playing time should take advantage of the opportunities they get like Reid did.

“I told our guys in the locker room a lot of times, ‘You’re going to get opportunities in life, and are you prepared for them?’ and Tariq has practiced extremely hard in fall camp,” Mitchell said. “Throughout the course of these four weeks, he’s done a lot to be ready for this moment.”

Reid wasn’t the only Laker to find the end zone on the night, as senior cornerback Jaylen Moore had a 16-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter, and senior wide receiver Austin Paritee had a clutch, 9-yard back-shoulder touchdown catch in the fourth quarter.

The GVSU defense did give up more than a few big plays and allowed SVSU 378 total yards of offense, and even though they came up big when they needed to most, senior linebacker Isaiah Nkansah was not proud of his unit’s performance.

“Saginaw took advantage of great opportunity tonight,” Nkansah said. “They busted a couple runs, so we made some changes and they hit a couple in the pass game, that’s just football for you.”

With SVSU reaching the one-yard line with 20 seconds left, quarterback Tyler Conklin was stopped for no gain on a combination tackle by junior Tyler Bradfield and Nkansah. With the Cardinals out of timeouts, they had to rush to the line to run one more play, where Conklin was stopped for a loss of one yard by sophomore Antonio Strong as the clock struck zero to seal the win for GVSU.

Football is always about having a short memory when it comes to personal failures, so Mitchell and his coaching staff weren’t even thinking about last week’s hail mary during that final drive.

“It was a tight game, but that’s kind of how we’re living right now,” Mitchell said. “We’ve been in these moments. There are positives with the close games. Delta State, the Michigan Tech game and the Ashland game, we’ve been in these moments, but our kids didn’t flinch, and I give them credit for that.”

GVSU wide receiver Jacob Miller (14) evades a few SVSU Cardinal defenders in
pursuit and looks to return a kickoff past midfield on Saturday, Oct. 12. GVL \ Sheila Babbitt

Mitchell hit the nail on the head with that statement, as with big games like the Anchor-Bone classic approaching and the playoffs looming, GVSU may very well play in more down-to-the-wire contests like this one, making all these tight game situations vital for future success.

“We had some adversity last week against Ashland, and we had some adversity with injuries on this roster tonight,” Mitchell said. “But there are no excuses. We’ve got to step up and go, and I thought our guys really attacked things. We’re finding every which way to win these games, and you got to get back here on tape and try to continue to improve, because I know our best is still in front of us.”

The win pushes GVSU to a 5-1 record on the year, and they will look to improve on that next week as they travel to the U.P. to take on Northern Michigan Saturday, Oct. 19. That game against the Wildcats is set to kick off at 1 p.m.