GVSU rocks Pueblo in Super Region finals

GVL / Kevin Sielaff - Seniors Jim Walsh (78) and Derek DeLuca (74) embrace before the match.  Grand Valley squares off against SVSU Nov. 14 in Allendale. The Lakers hold on and win with a final score of 24-17.

Kevin Sielaff

GVL / Kevin Sielaff – Seniors Jim Walsh (78) and Derek DeLuca (74) embrace before the match. Grand Valley squares off against SVSU Nov. 14 in Allendale. The Lakers hold on and win with a final score of 24-17.

Adam Knorr

It took just 16 seconds for the Grand Valley State football team to take a lead it would never relinquish in the Super Region 4 finals against Colorado State – Pueblo (12-2).

On the first play from scrimmage, quarterback Bart Williams went up top to wide receiver Matt Williams for a 65-yard touchdown, and the Lakers surged ahead 7-0.

“We felt the one position group that hadn’t been tested was the (CSU – Pueblo) secondary and we wanted to try to take some shots early,” said GVSU head coach Matt Mitchell. “You can’t be timid and win playoff games. You have to be aggressive, so we tried to be aggressive on the first play.”

GVSU (12-2) controlled from start to finish, beating the Thunderwolves 31-7 in Pueblo, Colorado to advance to the NCAA semifinals.

The Lakers bottled up CSU – Pueblo standout running back Cameron McDondle, and flashed a balanced offence, moving up and down the turf via both the run and the pass, springing out to an early 21-0 lead.

GVSU faced a number of scary moments in the first half, as running back Kirk Spencer, defensive end Matt Judon, Matt Williams and Bart Williams all went down hurt on the field at some point.

Spencer left the field on the stretcher, but the other three were able to return to the game soon after their respective injuries.

Spencer, a senior, broke his leg, and has played his last down as a member of the GVSU football team.

Backup running back Marty Carter, however, was ready for his chance.

Carter took over as the bell cow for the Lakers and rushed for a GVSU playoff record 231 rushing yards on 23 carries, slicing, dicing and dashing his way to nearly nine yards per carry.

“The biggest hurdle we had to cross was trust. We’ve always been confident in his abilities,” Mitchell said. “That’s the best thing about having him play behind Spencer is that we established that trust.”

GVSU, which burst out to a 31-7 lead in the first half, forced CSU – Pueblo into an unfamiliar style of play. The Thunderwolves relied on the run all season, and with the gaping deficit, needed to put the ball in the air to try to score quickly.

The Laker secondary simply licked its chops.

Cornerback Tre Walton came up with two interceptions on the day as GVSU limited CSU – Pueblo quarterback AJ Thomspon to 34 yards on 5 for 13 passing.

“I knew they were going to take a shot (downfield) eventually,” said Walton in regard to his first interception. “Their game plan is basically run, run, run, run, pass. I just can’t fall asleep out there.”

Following GVSU’s first touchdown, the defense flexed its muscle, stifling one of the best rushing attacks in Division II throughout the contest.

McDondle, who had averaged 191 yards rushing per game entering the contest, totaled 106 on the ground via 19 carries. The Laker defense held the Thunderwolves to 157 yards.

“This was a great defensive performance against a really good rushing team, but I don’t think it’s an anomaly. It’s not like it came out of left field,” Mitchell said. “We’ve been playing well defensively and the other thing is we’re much healthier on defense.”

The Lakers took a 14-0 lead after freshman Marty Carter rushed into the end zone from 19 yards out less than five minutes into the game.

After GVSU forced another three-and-out, it struck again. Spencer took a 7-yard rush into the end zone, but dropped on the field in pain after his score.

On CSU – Pueblo’s next possession, GVSU cornerback Donte Carey intercepted Thompson deep in Laker territory, but the pick was called back after a defensive holding on GVSU.

A few plays later, Thompson hit Patrick O’Malley on a play action pass for a touchdown, and CSU – Pueblo pulled the score to 21-7.

The Lakers kept coming.

For the second consecutive week, Mitchell dialed up a running back pass. Carter skirted the CSU – Pueblo pass rush and heaved a pass into double-coverage, but sophomore Nick Keizer skied and came down with the catch for a 22-yard touchdown to send GVSU ahead 28-7.

After Walton intercepted another deep pass from Thompson, the Lakers marched down the field, capping the drive off with a 27-yard field goal from Joel Schipper. GVSU headed into halftime ahead 31-7.

The second half passed with no scores from either side. GVSU, skittish after seeing a number of its key players succumb to injury in the first half, tried to play safely in order to avoid further blows to its roster.

“We were trying to get out of there with the win. We were up 31-7 and knew they weren’t built to come back,” Mitchell said. “We got pretty conservative.”

Bart Williams finished 12 for 17 for 182 yards and a touchdown, as neither he nor his teammates turned the ball over once in the contest. Matt Williams led the Laker receivers with four catches for 107 yards and a touchdown.

Junior Marquez Gollman laid a number of punishing hits downfield, leading the Lakers with eight total tackles, while adding a sack.

GVSU surrendered few explosive plays to the Thunderwolves, as the defense managed to stay on assignment and bring down ball-carriers on first contact.

The Lakers gained 527 yards on offense, including a season-high 323 yards rushing behind Carter’s mammoth outing.

The Lakers will take on Shepherd (12-0) in the semifinals on Dec. 12 in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.