Battling the elements… and then some

Archive / Robert Mathews
Junior running back Michael Ratay rushing past an Azusa Pacific defender.

Archive / Robert Mathews Junior running back Michael Ratay rushing past an Azusa Pacific defender.

Bryce Derouin

It wasn’t easy or pretty, but the Grand Valley State University football team earned its first road win of the season.

GVSU (6-2, 4-2 GLIAC) overcame rain, poor field conditions, a blatantly missed call on an extra point, and a blocked punt to complete a 23-17 comeback victory over Northwood University (2-6, 1-5 GLIAC) on Saturday.

“Our kids stuck together and battled,” GVSU head coach Matt Mitchell said. “The weather was pouring at the start of the third quarter. The field was a disaster. There were just a lot of things happening and our guys just stuck together and found a way to win on the road.”

With sophomore running back Kirk Spencer (hand) and senior back Chris Robinson (shoulder) both out, GVSU was forced to lean on junior Michael Ratay in the ground game.

Ratay answered the call and then some, as he tallied 196 yards on 27 carries and two touchdowns.

“I thought Mike Ratay stepped up,” Mitchell said. “Statistically you’ll see it—the big game. He ran hard, too. We needed a first down to close out the game, and he got it.”

Ratay’s two touchdown runs—1-yard and 3-yard scores—gave GVSU a 23-17 advantage. After Ratay’s second score, freshman Joel Schipper attempted the extra point, but slipped as the ball barely crossed over the crossbar. However, the refs didn’t see it that way and ruled the kick no good.

“It’s baffling. They said it was below the cross bar,” Mitchell said. “From my vantage point, there was no way. It wasn’t a high kick like a ‘Joel Schipper’ kick, but the turf and the footing was so bad that he kind of slipped on his plant foot. From my viewpoint—live on the field—that ball crossed the upright.”

With the inclement weather conditions, the Lakers failed to get the ball downfield in the passing game. Junior quarterback Isiah Grimes finished the day completing 14 of 24 passes for 200 yards and two interceptions, but most of his yards came via the screen game.

His favorite target was senior wide receiver Brandan Green, who caught six passes for 122 yards. Green also scored a rushing touchdown on a 28-yard end-around.

“With the wet ball and the field conditions, we were struggling at times to throw the ball down the field,” Mitchell said. “We had a chance to hit a few (screens) in the first half, but we didn’t quite make enough blocks. The second half we hit our blocks and really got off and running.”

The defense played one of its best games on the season, as Northwood wasn’t able to sustain any long offensive drives. Both touchdowns came from the benefit of using short fields due to GVSU’s miscues.

The first touchdown was set-up after the Timberwolves blocked a Laker punt, which allowed Northwood to start its drive from the GVSU 15. From there, quarterback Mark Morris found Carrington Thompson on a nine-yard pass for the score.

Northwood’s second touchdown of the day was set up after Laker junior cornerback DeVonte’ Jones was able to pick off Morris on an errant pass, but on the return, he fumbled the ball and Northwood recovered.

Running back Glenn Winston capped off the 14-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run to give the Timberwolves a 17-10 advantage.

“Our defense kept us in the game when things weren’t going real great on offense and special teams,” Mitchell said. “We controlled the line of scrimmage really well both the run and the pass. De’Ondre Hogan and Matt Mosley were in the backfield being disruptive on the quarterback.”

The GVSU defense recorded seven tackles for loss, including four sacks. Hogan led the team with two sacks, while Mosley and junior defensive lineman Frank Boenzi each recorded a sack apiece.

It would also be the defense that would secure the victory for GVSU.

Trailing 23-17 with 3:35 left on the clock, Northwood started its drive from its own 20, and the Timberwolves drove it to the GVSU 30. From there, the Laker defense stood its ground and forced four straight incompletions, sealing the victory.

“We had two chances to pick off balls on the final drive,” Mitchell said. “They have a ball they drop in the end zone. It was a wild ending. Our kids kept showing up to battle and ultimately, our defense ended up winning the game for us.”

GVSU will return to Lubbers Stadium on Saturday for the final night game of the regular season. The Lakers will host Hillsdale College in a “blackout” game.

“We have three big games coming up here. There’s a lot of football left to be played,” Mitchell said. “It was a good team win. I think the two sides of the ball have confidence in each other and obviously we just gotta go out and make plays.”
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