Heartbreaker: GVSU falls to Ashland on final play 34-31, shedding doubt on playoff chances

Heartbreaker: GVSU falls to Ashland on final play 34-31, shedding doubt on playoff chances

Brady McAtamney

The No. 19 Grand Valley State Lakers dropped their pivotal week-10 road matchup with the No. 11 Ashland University Eagles Saturday, Nov. 4, by a final score of 34-31. Ashland ended the game with a 29-yard field goal as time expired in the contest. 

The loss lowers the Lakers’ record to 7-3 overall, 6-2 GLIAC. All three of their losses have been by a combined total of eight points. For head coach Matt Mitchell, these tightly contested losses are worrisome for him and the coaching staff.

“(This game) is similar to the Ferris State loss (FSU won 28-27),” Mitchell said. “Our guys showed a lot of fight, and it says a lot about the character of the team, but we made too many mistakes. You can’t beat good teams like when you make those mistakes.”

The Lakers started the contest off cold after quarterback Bart Williams threw an interception on the first series of the game. While the turnover would not result in an Ashland score, the Eagles did get on the board first with a 6-yard touchdown with 6:29 left in the quarter.

GVSU would respond when starting running back Bryce Young-Walls scored from 3 yards out to tie the game at the 2:04 mark.

However, Ashland would own the rest of the half as they tacked on a 53-yard touchdown run and a 43-yard field goal in the second quarter, while the Lakers wouldn’t score for the rest of the half.

Taking an early 17-7 lead and the ball out of halftime, the Eagles marched down the field with authority in 10 plays, going for 75 yards to take a commanding 24-7 advantage with 10 minutes left in the third.

The Lakers refused to go down without a fight. They answered Ashland’s long drive with one of their own, capitalized upon by Young-Walls again to cut the lead to 10.

Early in the fourth quarter, kicker J.J. McGrath nailed a 26-yard field goal. Three minutes later, Williams found tight end Nick Keizer for a 10-yard touchdown, tying the game at 24 to get the comeback underway with 10:48 left.

After having been held off the board for over a quarter, the Eagles reclaimed the lead with a 2-yard touchdown. With fight still in their spirits, GVSU would have to march down the field and score another touchdown.

The drive started well, but they eventually were faced with fourth-and-seven from the Ashland 49. Despite converting a handful of fourth downs already in the game, they sent out the punt unit, except they pulled some tricks out of their sleeve. The snap went to linebacker Collin Schlosser who tossed a pass to defensive back Brendan McMahon who then reeled it in for a 28-yard catch. The trick play would lead to payoff as Young-Walls found the end zone for his third touchdown of the night a few plays later.

With 3:14 remaining in the contest, the Eagles charged down the field and into the red zone with the benefit of a 13-yard face-mask penalty. Shortly after, Ashland hit the game-winning field goal as the clock struck zero.

“The biggest key defensively was we were out there way too many plays,” Mitchell said. “We were short some people because of injuries, but that’s not an excuse. We were missing tackles, and we failed to convert some third downs on both sides. They wore us down from being out there too long.”

Young-Walls was the star of the show on offense for the Lakers, taking 21 carries for 145 yards and three touchdowns. Recently injured star Marty Carter was only able to take five carries for 11. Williams completed 13 of 31 passes for 140 yards with one touchdown while also throwing one interception. Williams found seven different targets throughout the game.

On the other end, linebacker Garrett Pougnet was all over the turf, collecting a game-high 16 tackles—twice as many as the next most—as well as two tackles for loss and one sack.

Two major factors contributing to the defeat were penalties and an inability to convert third-down chances. The Lakers committed six penalties for 72 yards and converted only three of 12 third-down attempts.

With this serving as the third loss of the season for GVSU, their chances of landing in the playoffs are in doubt. Coming into Saturday, they sat in sixth place in Super Region Three. Both the two-loss teams behind them won their weekend games, meaning the Lakers will likely drop to the eighth spot or even lower. The top seven teams in the region are granted playoff berth.

For Mitchell, the hopes for a playoff position contain more doubt than hope.

“It doesn’t look good,” Mitchell said. “There’s going to have to be a lot of other things happening. For a three-loss team, we have a good resume, but there are too many one- and two-loss teams ahead of us. It’s not optimistic.” 

If the Lakers are to lean on anything, it’s this: All three of their losses have come on the road to the second-, third- and fourth-ranked teams in their region by a combined eight points. Their seven victories have come by a combined total of 238 points.

GVSU will wrap up their regular season with a home bout against the Tiffin University Dragons (6-4, 5-3 GLIAC) Saturday, Nov. 11. The finale is scheduled to kick off at 1 p.m at Lubbers Stadium.