GVSU prepares for new-look rival, Ferris State

Brady Fredericksen

The rivalry between Grand Valley State University and Ferris State University has tipped in favor of the Lakers in recent years, but as this season’s matchup approaches on Saturday at Lubbers Stadium, there’s a new wrinkle to the rivalry.

Despite 11-straight victories over Ferris State (3-2, 2-2 GLIAC), GVSU (5-0, 4-0 GLIAC) will enter this season’s game against an offense and team that has gone through a total transformation since last season.

Gone is head coach Jeff Pierce and a spread offense that mustered just one trick-play touchdown against GVSU last season, and in comes new head coach Tony Annese and his option-based and GLIAC-best rushing offense.

“They’re a potent rushing attack on offense,” said GVSU head coach Matt Mitchell. “They run an option-based scheme … a lot of moving parts, it’s not your traditional double-slot option attack — there’s a lot more variability to what they do in their rushing attack, so that’s going to put some pressure on us.”

That offense, a variation of the veer and pistol offenses, is one that Annese has found success with in the past. Though this is his first NCAA coaching job, his success running the offense at Muskegon High School and Grand Rapids Community College is proven — he won a pair of NJCAA Division II National Championships at GRCC and three Division II state titles at Muskegon.

“Any time you have a new coaching staff, doesn’t matter what institution it’s at, there’s going to be a breath of fresh air, a new outlook, a new culture; that’s probably the biggest thing we’ve seen,” Mitchell said of the new-look Bulldogs. “It’s just brought a more positive light on their football program and made them more relevant.”

Though the Lakers’ defense has struggled with stopping the run in spots this season, Mitchell’s defenses at GVSU have had success against option attacks in recent years.

The team is 2-0 against option-running Northwood with Mitchell as head coach and defeated Carson-Newman College in the NCAA Division II playoffs in 2009 when he was defensive coordinator.

“It is non-traditional, it’s not something that we typically, obviously, don’t see throughout the course of spring ball and camp,” Mitchell said. “I think it’s a little bit of a misnomer when everybody says option, there’s a lot of different versions of it and this is definitely something that’s kind of new and it’s going to put some challenge on us because it’s not the same stuff we’ve seen.”

Defensively, the Lakers are banged up, but Mitchell has applauded the play of reserve defensive lineman Lucas Kozuch and Isiah Dunning in recent weeks.

The team has allowed 40-plus points in three wins this season, partially due to the injuries depleting some special teams depth, but the rivalry itself is an event that gives some of the players a little motivation going into the week of preparation.

“It’s a pretty big rivalry, there’s definitely a star next to their name every year when we look at the schedule,” said senior guard Tim Lelito. “They’re definitely a really good team … every year we look forward to playing them and it should be a good matchup this year.”

GVSU’s offense, which expects the return from injury of sophomore tailback Mike Ratay, will be going against a Ferris State defense that struggled to contain Saginaw Valley State University receiver Tim Houge, who scored three times (one rush, two receiver) in the Cardinals’ overtime victory.

“Anytime you get the Ferris deal, its kind of the whole coaching cliché kind of throw the records out the window,” Mitchell said. “There’s a rivalry game with them being so close and the (Anchor-Bone) trophy and a lot of things that go into it.”

The Lakers will take the Lubbers Stadium field at 7 p.m. on Saturday to defend the Anchor-Bone trophy. Fans can follow the action live on Twitter @GVLSports.

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