GVSU football drops season opener to unranked Indianapolis

GVL/Luke Holmes - Nick Keizer warms up before the start of the match. Grand Valley defeats Tiffin with a final score of 45-7 on Thursday, September 1, 2016 at Lubbers Stadium.

GVL/Luke Holmes – Nick Keizer warms up before the start of the match. Grand Valley defeats Tiffin with a final score of 45-7 on Thursday, September 1, 2016 at Lubbers Stadium.

Brady McAtamney

For a team that has already received high acclaim around the Division II football world this season, this wasn’t exactly the start Laker fans were hoping for, or even expected.

Ranked No. 2 in Division II, the Grand Valley State Lakers lost their season opener to the University of Indianapolis Greyhounds by a score of 24-20 on the road, putting the Lakers at 0-1 to begin the season Thursday, Aug. 31.

It was the two teams’ first meeting since 2011, when UIndy won in a similar fashion—by one score at home.

The Lakers started the game off hot, tacking seven points on the board the very first drive of the game on a nine-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Bart Williams to tight end Nick Keizer. 

The Lakers found themselves back on the scoreboard after defensive back Kalen Dunham forced a UIndy turnover, which let to a seven-yard lob from Williams to wide receiver Brandon Bean. However, the extra point attempt was blocked, and the Lakers would not score again until the fourth quarter. At this point, the Lakers gathered a 13-0 lead, one that seemed to seal the deal against an unranked opponent. 

However, Indianapolis punched GVSU back with 10 answered points in the second quarter off a 27-yard field goal and a 4-yard touchdown pass. By the end of the half, the Lakers still managed to maintain their lead with a score of 13-10.

But the Greyhounds didn’t let the Lakers retain their lead, as they opened the second half with a 12-play, 75-yard drive to find the end zone to obtain their first lead of the game, 17-13 UIndy.

Down 17-13 with 7:11 left in the game, Williams and Keizer connected again on a 10-yard pass for the go-ahead touchdown. The Lakers regained the lead with a score of 20-17.

The Greyhounds responded on the ensuing drive with a 51-yard touchdown run, which was the nail in the coffin for the Lakers, as they failed to score on their final drive despite finding the red zone.

“Our kicking game is what hurt us,” said GVSU head coach Matt Mitchell. “We got the extra point blocked, so instead of being down three, we’re down four. Instead of playing for field goals, we’re off trying to get a touchdown, we’re down by four. That missed extra point completely changed the dynamic.”

The difficulties with kicking were not the only major factor to hinder the Lakers, as running back Martayveus Carter, who led the nation in rushing in 2016, took his 17 carries for only 57 yards. As a whole, the Lakers had 25 carries for 100 yards. Meanwhile, the Greyhounds put the ball on the ground a whopping 55 times for 326 total yards, with a majority of the production coming from Al McKeller (21 rushes for 206 yards and one touchdown) and Andrew Walker (20 rushes for 105 yards).

“They’ve got good backs, their offensive line is good and I think they were just pushing on our front seven,” said linebacker Collin Schlosser. “They were getting good pushes, and they were resetting the line of scrimmage on us.”

Another problem the Lakers defense exhibited was missed tackles, and that was not lost upon the players.

“We’re just going to have to work on our ball leverage because if you have bad leverage, you’re going to miss tackles,” Schlosser said. “We have to remember and play together, and that will help us out also. It’s going back to basic tackling drills at practice because that’ll help us.”

Despite being dominated on the ground, GVSU did perform well through the air. Williams completed 22 passes on 37 attempts for 303 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Bean hauled in seven passes for 84 yards and a score, while Keizer had six catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns. The offense was without two of its leading receivers, Nick Dodson and Urston Smith, due to injury.

“Obviously, it’s nice to have those guys out there, and they can stretch the defense, but we didn’t have a lack of talent,” Schlosser said.”Austin Paritee made a big play, Brandon Bean showed up, Nick Keizer, Jon-Marc, there just wasn’t a lack of talent at receiver. Obviously great to have them, but we still have great talent out there.”

Additionally, the Lakers were zero for three on fourth-down attempts, including a pass on their final offensive play of the game, which failed to reach the end zone. They were four for 12 on third down and committed six penalties, which were good for 60 yards.

GVSU will look to get the season back on track when they welcome the Davenport University Panthers (0-1) into Lubbers Stadium for the season’s home opener Saturday, Sep. 9. The game is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.