Battle tested: GVSU narrowly escapes SVSU on the road

GVL / Sheila Babbitt Football game vs Ferris State University on October 13th, 2018.

GVL / Sheila Babbitt Football game vs Ferris State University on October 13th, 2018.

Brady McAtamney

After taking their first loss of the season two games prior and almost dropping a stunner to Davenport just one week ago, it would be crucial for the No. 9 Grand Valley State Lakers to hit the road again and take out the playoff-minded rival Saginaw Valley State Cardinals on Saturday, Oct. 27. 

They did just that, winning the annual Battle of the Valleys game 31-28 for the sixth straight year and seventh consecutive match-up. With the win, GVSU moves to 8-1 (5-1 GLIAC) while SVSU drops to 6-3 (3-3). 

“Obviously we knew we were going to get a really competitive game,” said head coach Matt Mitchell. “Saginaw’s a really good football team. We had several injuries, I’m really proud of our team. (Starting quarterback) Bart Williams was out and we had a lack of depth at corner and line.”

With Williams hurt, backup Cole Kotopka made his first career start, throwing for 200 yards on 15 completions with one interception and rushing seven times for 36 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receivers Nick Dodson (seven catches for 67 yards) and Austin Paritee (five for 96) were his top targets while tight end Grant Dempster (two for 33) and running back Chawntez Moss (one for four) also caught passes. 

“I thought (Kotopka) did great given the situation,” Mitchell said. “He was hurt, too. He took a few reps on Thursday but came in and provided a bit of extra pop with his running ability, some of those were designed runs, some of those were runs that he scrambled around, but you talk about your first college start on the road against two teams that are top ten in the regional rankings, to come out on top with that victory (is huge).”

Running back Jack Provencher helped carry the offensive load, taking 14 carries for 106 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to put the Lakers up 31-21 with five minutes left after the Cardinals had found the end zone on consecutive drives.

While GVSU played a mostly complete game by forcing two turnovers, allowing 5.1 yards per play while gaining 6.4 of their own and having Dodson return a punt for a touchdown, they nearly undid themselves with penalties. They committed 12 of them – several of which were unsportsmanlike conduct calls – for 92 yards and oftentimes backed themselves up or allowed the Cardinals to advance. 

“We had some dumb penalties,” Mitchell said. “Stupid penalties that we hadn’t had for the first eight games, you come out in game nine, and it hurt us. It almost cost us a chance at the game because of some dumb penalties. It’s the first thing we’ve got to address.

“What we do on pre-snap, post-snap penalties, we run gassers on Tuesday. We’ll come back in and we’re going to run them. I don’t know how you can get on that sideline and not feel the effects of those penalties and what they almost did to that game.”

Now finished with road trips for the remainder of the regular season, the Lakers will return home for two games at Lubbers Stadium beginning with a visit from the Ashland Eagles (5-3, 5-1) on Saturday, Nov. 3. The game is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. and can be streamed live on ESPN3 or heard on ESPN radio 96.1.