Do or die: GVSU football prepares for Northwest Mo. State in playoff bout

Do or die: GVSU football prepares for Northwest Mo. State in playoff bout

Brady McAtamney

The Grand Valley State football team has won 10 out of 11 games in 2018. Over those 10 wins, the Lakers have defeated three of last year’s NCAA Division II Playoffs participants. Seven of those victories are by double digits and six are by at least 21 points. 

Their resume has earned them the No. 3 seed in NCAA’s DII Super Region Three and an opportunity to host a national powerhouse: the No. 6 seeded Northwest Missouri State Bearcats. The program has won six national championships – including four since 2009 and as recently as 2016 – compared to GVSU’s four.

“It’s a great first round match-up,” said head coach Matt Mitchell. “It’s crazy that you have these two programs able to square off. This is my sixth time against them as a coach, whether assistant or head coach. Two really high quality programs and it’s a unique opportunity for them to square off in the first round.”

The Bearcats boast one of the top defenses in the country, as they have held opponents this season to 13.3 points, 201.1 passing yards and 66 rushing yards per game while forcing 17 turnovers. 

The Lakers are not necessarily intimidated though, as they liken the NMSU defense to those of two of their 2018 opponents: Ferris State and Ashland, who rank in the top two spots in the GLIAC in terms of defense. GVSU’s four point loss to FSU was fueled by three turnovers and, while they squeaked past AU by three points, they committed a handful of careless penalties to forfeit precious yardage.

NMSU is a threat offensively with three different players eclipsing 600 yards rushing this season, including redshirt freshman quarterback Braden Wright, who has also thrown for 2,235 yards and 20 touchdowns with a 55.8 completion percentage.

“What they do offensively is try to play to (their defense) and I think part of it is the way the team’s structured, they run the ball,” Mitchell said. “You also have to take into account they have a redshirt freshman quarterback. Now, he was freshman of the year and second team all-conference and he played really well, but it’s a first year starting quarterback and they want to establish a ground game.”

Location figures to play a role in the game, too, as the Lakers will host a playoff game for the first time since 2016. While the Bearcats are 9-2 overall, they are only 3-2 in away games and the trip to Allendale will be their longest of the season by over 200 miles. On the other end, the Lakers will settle in for their third straight home game and enjoy carrying on with their established weekly routine. 

As is known around the country, GVSU fans are capable of upping the effectiveness of the Lakers’ home-field advantage, averaging 12,742 fans per game at Lubbers Stadium. The average attendance the Bearcats have encountered away from Maryville, Mo. is only 4,850 fans. Packed bleachers have potential to go a long way in aiding the Lakers’ effort in advancing to the second round. 

“It’s really rare to host,” Mitchell said. “There’s only 28 teams left in the playoff and you’re looking at, when the No. 1 seeds get a bye, that’s only 12 teams that are hosting playoff games this week across America. We’re one of the 12 teams that’s hosting a Division II playoff game at home. It’s not Thanksgiving weekend, classes are still in session, so a great opportunity to not only come out and support Grand Valley football but also see two great programs facing off.”

The Round One match-up of the NCAA Division II Playoffs between the Lakers and Bearcats kicks off at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 17. from Lubbers Stadium in Allendale, Mich.