Late touchdowns propel ODU past GVSU

GVL / Marissa Dillon
Player #80/ Brandon Bean/ Freshman

GVL / Marissa Dillon Player #80/ Brandon Bean/ Freshman

Jay Bushen

Box score

Fireworks boomed over the field on Saturday night as more than 15,000 fans crammed into Lubbers Stadium to watch the No. 18 Grand Valley State University football team clash with No. 10 Ohio Dominican University.

Fans had plenty to cheer about all night in the highly anticipated GLIAC tilt, but only a fraction of them were still cheering late in the game because the only fireworks taking place were on the field – and they came courtesy of ODU’s quick-strike offense.

GVSU led 24-14 with less than seven minutes to play, but could not hold on as the Panthers staged a late comeback. ODU wideout Dez Stewart delivered the dagger, a 90-yard touchdown catch with 2:44 remaining, and the reigning GLIAC champs escaped 28-24.

“We had a two-score lead in the fourth quarter,” said GVSU coach Matt Mitchell. “It was disappointing that we can’t close the game out. Defensively, we gave up three huge, massive plays when they’re backed up.”

ODU’s ability to make big plays proved to be the difference, and it started early on. The Panthers blocked GVSU’s first punt of the game and returned it for a touchdown.

The Lakers answered on their next possession with a nine-play, 59-yard drive, which was capped with an 18-yard touchdown strike from senior quarterback Heath Parling to redshirt freshman wide receiver Brandon Bean.

Then, after the teams exchanged a pair of three-and-outs, ODU senior running back Brandon Schoen did what he has done so often against GVSU in his career. Schoen shot out of the backfield for an 88-yard touchdown run, and the Panthers led 14-7.

“We just had some busts,” said GVSU junior linebacker Brad Horling. “I know I had one, probably more than one. We had flashes where we were getting them for losses, two or three plays in a row, and then we’d have a bust and they’d break a run.”

The defense forced a punt from the ODU 2-yard line when they returned to the field, however, and Parling and Co. capitalized. This time, senior running back Michael Ratay punched in his second 1-yard touchdown run of the season to even the score at 14 apiece.

The GVSU offense once again took advantage of great field position later in the second quarter.

GVSU forced and recovered a fumble on an ODU punt return, and Parling made the most of it by connecting with sophomore wideout Matt Williams on a picturesque, 19-yard touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone to put the Lakers up 21-14.

Parling’s play stood out in the first half while GVSU’s rushing attack was a complete non-factor. He threw an interception, but completed 20-of-31 attempts and accounted for 232 of GVSU’s 236 total yards of offense through the air.

The inability to run the ball, however, was the achilles heel offensively. ODU held the Lakers to just three second-half points, and GVSU’s trio of running backs finished with just 63 yards on the ground.

“Obviously we struggled to run the ball,” Mitchell said. “We’ll have to take a look at the tape and see what’s going on, but we didn’t really have many explosive plays in the run game until the end…We’re not getting our backs to the second level at all.”

As a result, Parling was forced to sling the ball often: His 28 completions and 48 attempts were both career highs. The Panthers eventually refused to bite on play-action fakes, and sacked him four times in the second half.

GVSU’s defense – led by senior nose tackle Frank Boenzi and senior cornerback DeVonté Jones – was able to mask the offensive woes for much of the second half, but it was unable to stay off the field for long. 

The offense moved the chains twice in the fourth quarter, and both were the result of ODU penalties.

ODU improves to 2-0 with the win, while GVSU falls to 0-2 for the first time in 14 years. The Lakers will look for their first win of the season when they travel to take on rival Ferris State on Saturday night in Big Rapids, Mich.

“We’ve got to move on,” said junior wideout Jamie Potts, who led the team with six receptions and 89 yards against ODU. “We can’t sulk from this loss, obviously if we do that we’re going to get our butts kicked by Ferris. We’ve got to move on, and get ready for Ferris. They’re a good team, and I know the guys on this team are ready to get back to work and get better.”

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Notes: The 15,005 fans combined to make up the fourth largest crowd in Lubbers Stadium history…GVSU had previously won 11 straight home games…ODU has won 17 regular season games in a row…The touchdown catches by Bean and Williams were the first receptions of their Laker careers.