Defense, offense struggle in rivalry game loss to Ferris State

GVL / Robert Mathews
Junior Michael Ratay being brought down by two FSU defenders

Robert Mathews

GVL / Robert Mathews Junior Michael Ratay being brought down by two FSU defenders

Brady Fredericksen

Fool me once, shame on you, but fool me twice, shame on me.

It wasn’t one or two cases of being fooled that doomed the Grand Valley State University football team on Saturday, but an array of misreads and missed tackles were enough for rival Ferris State University to walk into Lubbers Stadium and give GVSU their worst loss since 2010 in the 40-24 loss.

The Lakers (5-1, 4-1 GLIAC) lost to the Bulldogs (4-2, 3-2 GLIAC) for the first time in 11 years, and GVSU’s struggles, specifically those on defense, were no different than the ones that have plagued them all season long.

“Didn’t stop the run, didn’t stop the inside run at all — that starts with me,” said GVSU head coach Matt Mitchell. “We didn’t stop the run and give enough possessions to our offense.”

Despite 17 tackles by junior linebacker Charles Hill, the defense struggled to decipher and slow Ferris State’s veer-option offense. Bulldogs quarterback Jason Vander Laan led the game with 191 yards on the ground, one of three 100 yard rushers allowed by the GVSU defense.

That defense — which allowed three runs of 56-plus yards — seemed to have taken control of the momentum early after forcing fumbles on back to back Ferris State possessions, but its 17-0 lead in the first quarter proved to be the most effective the GVSU offense would be all game.

“Some of the plays we got in kind of late, so I had to try to see what their defense was doing and didn’t have time to check out the plays,” said GVSU sophomore Isiah Grimes. “Just keep our heads up, we don’t really want to ever say what good or bad we can take out of something, we just gotta keep getting better week by week.”

Grimes struggled mightily for the first time as a starter, completing just 14-of-31 passes for 188 yards a touchdown and an interception late in the fourth quarter that sealed the Lakers’ fate. The sophomore looked visibly confused in the third quarter when he was forced to call time outs on two of three plays, evidence of the plays coming in late from the sidelines.

“I thought we came out and did a good job early, and then we just got a little stagnant,” Mitchell said of his offense, which was held to a season-low 20 points. “It got difficult when (they) got the lead, they could kind of pin their ears back a little bit and throw a lot of different coverages at Isiah. It’s also difficult when they’re rushing three guys and dropping eight in coverage, getting a little pressure on the quarterback, that makes things difficult, too.”

One of the main culprits for Grimes’ slow day was an inability to connect with wide receiver Charles Johnson. The Ferris State secondary held the usually productive receiver to just one catch for four yards, a season low. Junior Brandan Green led the Lakers, finishing with five receptions for 77 yards and a touchdown.

“There’s a lot of football left to be played in the GLIAC, and everyone in the North division now has one loss, so we’ve got to get back to work,” Mitchell said. “If this loss is going to define our season, that’s fairly pathetic. As a group, we’ve got to get back to work and figure out what we have to do to get better and ultimately beat Northern (Michigan).”

The Lakers have a week to recover before traveling to the Upper Peninsula for the second time this season to take on Northern Michigan University, but GVSU is aiming to use the loss as motivation.

“I mean, every little thing in this game gives us a little flair,” said freshman running back Kirk Spencer, who ran for 84 yards and a touchdown. “It’s a loss, it hurts — no one likes to lose. All we can do is go in, watch the film and get better.”

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