GVSU edges Ferris State to advance to NCAA quarterfinals

GVL / Kevin Sielaff - Matt Williams (24) celebrates Grand Valleys victory.  Grand Valley defeats Ferris with a final score of 38-34 at Top Taggart Field Nov. 28 in Big Rapids, MI.

Kevin Sielaff

GVL / Kevin Sielaff – Matt Williams (24) celebrates Grand Valley’s victory. Grand Valley defeats Ferris with a final score of 38-34 at Top Taggart Field Nov. 28 in Big Rapids, MI.

Alex Eisen

In mid-September, the Grand Valley State football team was given a harsh reality check in front of its home fans, as the Lakers lost 61-24 to Ferris State in week three of the regular season in front of the second-largest crowd in Lubbers Stadium history.

In late November, undefeated No. 2 seed FSU (11-0) welcomed sixth-seeded GVSU (10-2) to Top Taggart Field with a spot in the Super Region 4 finals on the line.

In a gritty performance, the Lakers ended the Bulldogs’ season with 38-34 victory in the playoff version of the Anchor-Bone Classic.

“All along this whole time everybody wants to make things out about GV versus Ferris,” said GVSU head coach Matt Mitchell. “We were much more focused this week on Grand Valley being one of eight (teams left in the postseason) than about the rivalry and all the other stuff that goes into it. That’s a credit to our kids.”

That’s not to say, however, that beating FSU wasn’t sweet for a number of jilted Lakers.

“It’s a great win for Grand Valley,” said senior running back Kirk Spencer. “All those times that Ferris has beat us and tried to run up the score on us, it’s great to come in their house and knock them out of the playoffs.”

GVSU opened the scoring with a 10 play, 82-yard touchdown drive, capped off with a 9-yard pitch and catch from quarterback Bart Williams to Spencer in the flat.

A pair of Bart Williams interceptions flipped the field in FSU’s favor, but the Bulldogs could only capitalize on the second turnover to even the score at 7-7 with 27 seconds left in the first quarter.

On the ensuing possession, the Lakers needed only 31 seconds for Bart Williams to lob up a 66-yard bomb to Matt Williams to regain the lead, 14-7. The catch put Matt Williams over 1,000 yards receiving for the season.

Matt Williams finished with a team-high five catches for 126 yards and two touchdowns.

FSU marched down the field on its next possession. On the 11th play of the drive, Bulldog quarterback Jason Vander Laan found Shakur Sanders, who scampered seven yards into the end zone to tie the score at 14-14.

After a Joel Schipper 45-yard field goal, FSU answered back to take the lead with a 35-yard touchdown throw from Vander Laan. The Bulldogs, however, would miss the extra point, leaving the score at 20-17 in FSU’s favor.

On GVSU’s next possession, Spencer found a hole in the FSU defense and raced 26 yards up the field. He finished the first half with 75 yards on six carries.

A couple plays later, another long ball from Bart Williams’ arm led the Lakers into the end zone. This time, the GVSU quarterback hooked up with Urston Smith on a vertical route up the Lakers’ sideline for a 43-yard diving touchdown.

GVSU took the 24-20 lead into halftime after defensive back Garrett Pougnet intercepted Vander Laan near the end of the first half.

A pair of three-and-outs from both teams started the second half, before FSU returned a punt to the GVSU 23-yard line. On the next play, Vander Laan tossed his fourth touchdown pass of the afternoon to put the Bulldogs back on top, 27-24.

Looking to answer immediately, the Lakers sputtered, going three-and-out and giving the Bulldogs more momentum.

But the Laker defense held its ground. On fourth-and-4 on the GVSU 41-yard line, Vander Laan lined up to take the snap, but sent a pooch punt downfield instead of attempting to get the first down.

Starting on its own 20-yard line, GVSU used a variety of quick slants and crossing routes to move the ball down the field. The drive ended with an 11-yard touchdown run from Marty Carter to put the Lakers back on top, 31-27 with 2:08 left in the third quarter.

FSU went right back down the field.

A disputed down-by-contact call inside the red zone, instead of a forced fumble by the Lakers, gave FSU second life as Vander Laan threw his fifth touchdown pass with 11:54 left in the game to give the Bulldogs a 34-31 lead.

The Lakers got a crucial first down near midfield as the Bulldogs picked up a defensive pass interference to give GVSU possession deep in FSU territory.

Then, pulling out all the stops, Mitchell called up a trick play. Bart Williams pitched the ball back to Carter, who then turned and threw the ball all the way across the field to his quarterback.

“I’m not going to lie, (Carter) was shaky doing it throughout the week of practice,” Mitchell said. “At halftime I told Tim Morrison, offensive coordinator, I was watching the way their ends were playing and how things were happening and I told him – we had two plays – (and) that those two plays were good and we could use them.”

Bart Williams was stopped just short of the goal line after the catch, but he finished the drive with 1-yard touchdown pass to Matt Williams. It was Bart’s fourth touchdown pass of the contest and Matt’s second touchdown reception.

GVSU led 38-34 with 8:30 remaining.

“It was a great call by the coaches,” Bart Williams said. “We were able to get the ball down to the goal line and were able to punch it in.”

On FSU’s next possession, GVSU linebacker David Talley intercepted a Vander Laan pass. The Lakers couldn’t add points, however, and punted the ball back to the Bulldogs with 4:16 left.

FSU got the ball to midfield on its final possession, needing a touchdown to win and not just a field goal to tie after the earlier botched extra point. The Lakers effectively covered deep routes and forced FSU’s offense off the field for the final time in 2015 after FSU turned the ball over on downs.

Two kneels later, GVSU completed the road upset, 38-34.

“(The victory) feels good, but we are more excited about being one of eight (teams) now,” Bart Williams said. “It feels good to get revenge after (FSU) put a whooping on us.”

Bart Williams finished 20 of 34 for 335 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. Spencer rushed for 81 yards on eight carries. Just trailing Matt Williams in both categories, Smith pulled in four catches for 108 yards to go with his touchdown.

Vander Laan completed 24 of 40 passes for 281 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions, while rushing for 132 yards on 21 carries.

The Lakers will play fourth-seeded Colorado State University-Pueblo (12-1) in the quarterfinals on Saturday in Pueblo, Colorado after the ThunderWolves knocked off top-seeded Midwestern State, 26-17.