GVSU football carried to Homecoming victory by defense, unlikely heroes

GVL / Emily Frye
The GVSU defense swarms a Northern Michigan University player during the Lakers Homecoming game Saturday, Oct. 28.

GVL / Emily Frye

The GVSU defense swarms a Northern Michigan University player during the Lakers’ Homecoming game Saturday, Oct. 28.

Brady McAtamney

The No. 14 Grand Valley State Lakers defeated the Northern Michigan University Wildcats on a chilly, rainy Saturday by a score of 28-3 in their first home game since September. With the Oct. 28 Homecoming win, the Lakers improve to 7-2 (6-1 GLIAC) on the season, while the Wildcats drop to 1-7 (1-6 GLIAC).

Playing without star running back Marty Carter, the Lakers kicked off the bout with a 15-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Bart Williams to wide receiver Brandon Bean on their opening drive of the game.

That score, though, was the last GVSU managed during the first half, as turnovers—including two fumbles and an interception—derailed multiple Laker drives.

“The first half was pretty frustrating,” said head coach Matt Mitchell. “Offensively, go right down the field on the opening drive and score, and we kind of got bogged down after that. A lot of it was self-inflicted stuff. We got two fumbles and a pick that I think, at least two of the three, were on their side of the field, and then we obviously went for it on fourth down (and failed). Probably should have had that, too, and it got us off schedule. Just didn’t play real well offensively as far as the turnover margin.”

A short Wildcats field goal midway through the second quarter made the score 7-3 at the half in GVSU’s favor.

The second half, though, proved different, as the Lakers’ run game awoke through freshman Dre’on Kemp who took over lead back duties with sophomore Caleb Richard after Bryce Young-Walls left the game with an injury. The rookie amassed 99 yards on 14 carries to go with his first three collegiate touchdowns from 1, 10 and 16 yards out, respectively.

“It felt good because I feel like the touchdowns were contributing to a win instead of just, like, finishing up a game,” Kemp said. “I played a big role in the offense, and I feel pretty good about it.”

The trio of running backs made up of Kemp, Richard and Young-Walls shouldered the offensive load in Carter’s absence, managing 255 total yards on the ground. Brandon Wadley and Williams added 31 more rushing yards combined on three carries to bring the team’s total to 286.

Additionally, Williams completed 10 of 22 passes for 137 yards, one touchdown and one interception. His top target was tight end Nick Keizer, who reeled in four passes for 78 yards.

GVSU’s defense shone bright on the rainy afternoon as they held the Wildcats to 295 total yards and three points.

Linebacker Collin Schlosser led the team with 12 tackles, while Tyler Bradfield added 10 tackles with 0.5 sacks. Dylan Carroll and Garrett Pougnet each added eight tackles and a total of three TFL between the two of them.

One of the biggest plays of the game came from the crown of Schlosser’s helmet during the opening drive of the second half. Using their halftime adjustments, the Wildcats made a handful of modifications and had success driving the ball downfield. Once they made it down to the Lakers’ 2-yard line, they tried to run up the gut where the ball carrier was met by Schlosser, who forced a fumble with his helmet. The loose ball was recovered by Michael Pettis and brought near the 20-yard line. The Lakers scored on the drive after 10 plays and nearly five minutes of time off the game clock, sealing the deal for GVSU.

“We just executed our play, and I had a chance to hit the ball carrier,” Schlosser said. “I put my helmet on the ball and it popped out. It wasn’t anything out of my body to play, just right place, right time.

“It was a tight ball game, so we knew if we didn’t let them score, we were going to win the game. We got adjustments; they came out running a couple different things in the second half, and that was part of the reason they were moving the ball. They were moving fast, and we were having trouble getting lined up. With the lead we knew that if we execute and prevent them from scoring, we’d win the game.”

Despite NMU having 31:15 of possession, they were allowed entry into the red zone only four times, and they scored during just one of those trips on a short field goal. The Wildcats were also seven of 16 on third-down attempts.

With kickoff temperature measured at 42 degrees and spouts of heavy rain throughout the game, the offense and special teams struggled to find themselves amidst the less-than-desirable weather, which did, at times, benefit NMU by giving them strong starting field position. However, the GVSU defense held strong even through the weather’s curveball, adding intrigue to their overall performance.

“We practiced in the rain on Tuesday and tried to prepare them for it, but obviously we’ve done a really good job without turning the ball over and tonight we didn’t, so it’s hard to say (weather) wasn’t a contributing factor,” Mitchell said. “It had an effect on the kicking game, too. We weren’t driving the ball as well on kick offs. We didn’t help our defense out with field position. J.J. (McGrath) kicked one out of bounds, and then the kicks were a little shorter, so I think it had a little bit of effect on us. 

But we’ve got to be able to handle it better. It’s going to continue to get colder as we get into late October and November.”

The defense will look to bottle up some of its success from Saturday and use it again in what figures to be another cold-weather battle Saturday, Nov. 4, when the Lakers travel to Ohio to take on the No. 4 Ashland University Eagles (8-1, 7-1 GLIAC).