GVSU gears up for Battle of the Valleys

GVL/Michael Dykstra
FB-GVSU vs. Tiffin- Senior RB Chris Robinson

GVL / Michael Dykstra

GVL/Michael Dykstra FB-GVSU vs. Tiffin- Senior RB Chris Robinson

Adam Knorr

Grand Valley State coach Matt Mitchell will be the first to admit that the 2014 season has been frustrating. His Lakers aren’t headed to the playoffs. They lost five games for the first time since 1999. They failed to beat a ranked opponent once.

But there’s one last shot at a sliver of redemption – and hope for the future – as GVSU (5-5, 5-4 GLIAC) approaches the last week of the season. As is tradition, GVSU will wrap up the year with a clash against archrival Saginaw Valley State. The Cardinals (2-8, 2-7 GLIAC) have been reduced to mincemeat all season, but the rivalry remains.

“Even with both teams not having seasons like they expected to have this year, it’s going to be really big for our program going forward. For recruiting and our program as a whole,” said senior defensive lineman Isiah Dunning.

GVSU’s seniors took care of business – and then some – in their final home game, a 42-7 trouncing of Tiffin. Nearly two-dozen GVSU seniors will suit up for their final collegiate game in Saginaw on Saturday afternoon, with no love lost between the two programs.

“If you look at the rosters there are a lot of players who know each other who have played each other in the past – either in high school or last year twice in a row,” said senior quarterback Heath Parling. “I think anytime you suit up against Saginaw you kind of use the expression, ‘Toss the records out the window.’

“More importantly it’s just another chance to play football for us seniors… its going to be emotional but really fun.”

Parling, a sixth-year senior, will attempt to emulate last week’s performance, in which he accounted for six touchdowns and was tabbed GLIAC Offensive Player of the Week. Running backs Chris Robinson and Hersey Jackson will also don a GVSU uniform for the last time.

It’s curtains for defensive stalwarts Dunning, Matt Mosley, Deonté Hurst, DeVonté Jones, Frank Boenzi and more. No more will the yolked, burrito-loving duo of Chris Picano and Marco Iaderosa kick for GVSU.

It’s one last chance to lay it all on the line – and no one inside the locker room expects anything less.

“When you’re at Grand Valley and the playoffs are out the window, there’s some opinions out there like, ‘What are you playing for?’,” Mitchell said. “That frustrates me. These are competitive athletes that really enjoy playing the game of football. They’re passionate about football, they’re competitive. Are they frustrated that some of those postseason things are not going to be there? Sure.

“But at the same thing they’re not, ‘Playoffs are not for Grand Valley, we’re just going to turn our equipment in.’ That’s not the consensus in the locker room.”

The consensus in the locker room is, undoubtedly, to beat SVSU. Again. The Lakers beat the Cardinals 49-34 in the Battle of the Valleys last season, before crushing SVSU 40-9 in the first round of the playoffs the following week.

Both teams are different from last season, but SVSU has had the more drastic overhaul of the two programs.

The Cardinals lost three-year starting quarterback Jonathon Jennings to graduation following last season. Standout wide receiver Jeff Janis was drafted into the NFL.

The adjustment process has been rocky for SVSU. The Cardinals rank dead last in the GLIAC in total offense, posting just 275.9 yards per game. GVSU, at 406.9, is sixth. Tyler Palka has seen the majority of snaps at QB for SVSU, but is only averaging 74.9 yards per game through the air. Couple this with a team total of 120.9 rush yards per game (13th in the GLIAC) and the Cardinals offensive woes begin to affect other facets of their game.

“I don’t think their defense is that bad,” Mitchell said of SVSU’s defense, ranked 9th in total points allowed. “I just think their defense is on the field a whole lot because their offense isn’t very productive.”

If GVSU can pull out a win, it will finish the 2014 season with a 6-5 record – far from the lofty expectations set when the Lakers opened the year ranked No. 2 in the nation.

It has been a frustrating season, but it has been anything but a frustrating senior class. When time runs out on Saturday, the buzzer will sound for Matt Mitchell’s first recruiting class.

They might not be headed to the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t make an impact.

“I get that we haven’t won, and we haven’t done as good a job as we could this year, but I can’t fault the effort and the way these guys approach things day in and day out,” Mitchell said. “The senior class especially.”

The Battle of the Valleys kicks off at 1 p.m. on Saturday in Saginaw. Follow @GVLSports on Twitter for live updates.