Laker defense will try to stifle Tiffin offense in season opener

Laker defense will try to stifle Tiffin offense in season opener

Beau Troutman

The new video board in Lubbers Stadium stands tall—40 feet tall, to be exact—ready for game action. The sleek all-blue uniforms, a benefit of the Adidas contract signed this past summer, are ready to be worn. It’s that time of year again.

It’s officially football season in Allendale.

“I think everybody around here is just excited to get back and compete,” said GVSU quarterback Bart Williams. “You know it’s been a long time, since the middle of December.Hopefully we’ll show that we’ve grown since last year.”

The Grand Valley State football (12-3 in 2015) team hosts Tiffin (5-6) in it’s season opener Sept. 1 at Lubbers Stadium at It is the second year in a row the Lakers have opened the season on a Thursday—last season, the Lakers defeated Southwest Baptist 36-28 in the season opener.

They’re hoping they can start the year off with a win again tonight.

“(Tiffin’s) team has our full attention,” GVSU coach Matt Mitchell said. “They’re a quality football club. They beat some teams up here in the North. They took it to Saginaw, they beat Wayne, they’ve done some things to some established programs. Their program is on the rise.”

Though the Dragons finished under .500 last season, they aren’t a team to be overlooked. They are led by senior quarterback Antonio Pipkin, who made his case as one of the top quarterbacks in the GLIAC last year. He finished with 3227 passing yards with 32 touchdowns and 729 rushing yards with eight touchdowns in 11 games.

The Laker defense will have to respect Pipkin’s ability as both a runner and a passer, but there won’t be any surprises when both teams take the field.

“They run four wide receivers, they’ve got a playmaker at quarterback, it’s really challenging,” Mitchell said. “You’ve got to cover the entire field. He’s a senior quarterback, a lot of great teams have a veteran quarterback. That’s gonna be a challenge for us. We didn’t handle it well last year.”

Last season, GVSU traveled to Tiffin in early November, and ended up being one of the more memorable games of the year. GVSU narrowly escaped 49-42, and couldn’t find an answer for the Dragon’s offensive onslaught led by Pipkin.

Pipkin completed 43-of-59 passes for 460 yards and six touchdowns against the GVSU defense. The defense couldn’t get Pipkin and company off the field, and allowed a 15-of-22 conversion rate on third downs, which Mitchell called “abysmal.” The inability to make stops led to the Tiffin offense gaining a little over 38 minutes in time of possession.

The Lakers escaped that game with win, and will be able to do so again if they can limit Pipkin’s opportunities. The Laker offense was one of the best in the country last season, and the Tiffin defense was one of the worst in the GLIAC. The question will be not if the Lakers can score enough, but limit the Tiffin offense.

The Lakers defense returns 10 starters, featuring a strong defensive line despite the loss of former GVSU defensive end and current Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Matt Judon. It will be hard for Tiffin to move the ball through the interior line filled by seniors DeOndre Hogan and Mark Rosenquist.

Perhaps the biggest question lies in the GVSU defensive secondary. Cornerback Tre Walton (six interceptions), strong safety Garrett Pougnet (105 tackles, three interceptions) and free safety Donte Carey (45 tackles) will lead a unit that bared the most of the brunt of Pipkin’s performance last year.

To avoid another fireworks display from the Dragons, Mitchell says his young corners need to step up.

“I think the biggest thing to watch early on is our corners,” Mitchell said. “Last year we had to play a sophomore and two freshman at corner, now we’ve got two sophomores and a junior out there. Have they grown up? I think they have. They can’t have mental lapses and mistakes.”

Senior defensive end Alton Voss and offensive guard Evan Schriner are the only starters who won’t suit up in the opener due to injury. Replacing Voss will be recently acquired graduate transfer Sydney Omameh, who has 16.5 career sacks at his previous school, Ohio Dominican.

Omameh is getting his first start sooner than he anticipated, but his experience has prepared him for these types of situations.

“(Omameh) was proactive about getting himself in a situation where he’s able to go out and play some snaps, so that’s been huge,” said GVSU defensive line coach EJ Whitlow.

Fans are encouraged to wear blue for the opening game, to go along with the new all-blue uniforms the Lakers will be wearing. For fans who can’t make it to the game, ESPN3 is providing an online stream of the game at Game day parking information can be found at