GVSU football is playoff bound

GVL / Robert Mathews
Quarterback Heath Parling

GVL / Robert Mathews Quarterback Heath Parling

Bryce Derouin

For the first time since 2010, the Grand Valley State University football team is headed to the playoffs.

GVSU (9-2, 7-2 GLIAC) managed to finish the regular season 7-0 at Lubbers Stadium, and clinched a playoff berth after defeating rival Saginaw Valley State University (9-2, 9-1 GLIAC) 49-34 in the 2013 Battle of the Valley’s.

“It was one of those team wins. I’m proud of this team,” GVSU head coach Matt Mitchell said. “That’s one of our goals, is to play in the postseason. We haven’t done that the past two years, so with this win, we put ourselves in a position to do that.”

It was the third quarter and the GVSU special teams that made the difference in the game.

Senior Reggie Williams returned the opening kickoff in the second half 29 yards, which allowed the GVSU offense to start its drive from the Saginaw Valley State 49. The Lakers capitalized on the short field when senior running back Chris Robinson put GVSU up 28-20 on a 9-yard touchdown run.

After Saginaw Valley State quarterback Jonathon Jennings led an eight play, 75-yard touchdown drive, GVSU made its first of two big special teams plays in the quarter.

Senior Erik Thompson caught the kickoff at his own 24, found a seam, and outran the Saginaw Valley State kickoff coverage on his way to the end zone for the 76-yard touchdown return.

It was Thompson’s second kickoff return for a touchdown against Saginaw Valley State. Two years ago, he returned it 100 yards for the score against the Cardinals.

Quarterback Jonathon Jennings and the Saginaw Valley State offense were unable to respond on its following possession, and were forced to punt, but the Cardinals would never get the punt off.

GVSU sophomore Alton Voss came free, blocked the punt, and recovered the ball at the Saginaw Valley State 24.

“The two special teams plays were huge,” Mitchell said. “The kickoff return for a touchdown, we didn’t have to get out there on offense and then blocking the punt, we had something we saw on tape and we got aggressive and Alton Voss recovered that one.”

On the very next play, junior quarterback Heath Parling pitched the ball out to sophomore running back Kirk Spencer, who scampered 24 yards for the touchdown in his first game back since Oct. 12, which put GVSU up 42-27.

Robinson tacked on his second rushing touchdown of the game early in the fourth quarter to give the Lakers a comfortable 49-27 cushion.

Jennings came in as the GLIAC leader in passing touchdowns and second in yards per game, and Saginaw Valley State entered the game averaging a GLIAC most 41.8 points per game.

He and the Cardinals didn’t disappoint, as Jennings completed 24 of 44 passes for 273 yards passing and an interception. Jennings also added 114 yards rushing on 16 carries and scored three touchdowns.

“Jonathon Jennings is a really good football player,” Mitchell said. “He hurt us with his feet a lot in the first half. Obviously we gave up 34 points, but I still feel like our defense won the game for us in the second half.”

But it was Heath Parling and the Grand Valley State University offense that shined the brightest on an overcast Saturday afternoon. Parling finished the day completing 14 of 26 for 274 yards passing, four touchdowns and an interception. His favorite target was sophomore tight end Jamie Potts, who caught five passes for 112 yards receiving and two touchdowns, including a highlight-reel worthy one-handed grab along the sidelines.

GVSU will now have to wait until Sunday to see whom its first playoff matchup will be against. The Lakers entered Saturday’s game with the No. 5 ranking in the Super Region Four, while the Cardinals were ranked at No. 3.

“Our kids kept playing on both sides of the ball and special teams,” Mitchell said. “It feels good. Our coaching staff enjoys coaching this group. We got a great group of kids that have high character. They’re competitive kids that I’ve not had any problems with, so I’m glad that we get to extend our season and keep coaching them, because I think they deserve it.

Look for the full game recap with information regarding the Lakers first playoff matchup included in the full recap of Monday’s edition of the Lanthorn.