End of the line: GVSU football season ends in rout to Northwest Mo. State

Bart Williams scrambles out of the pocket for a first down against Northwest Missouri State on Saturday, Nov. 17. GVL / Katherine Vasile

Bart Williams scrambles out of the pocket for a first down against Northwest Missouri State on Saturday, Nov. 17. GVL / Katherine Vasile

Brady McAtamney

The No. 6 seeded Northwest Missouri State Bearcats ran the ball. Then they ran it again. Then again. Then they ran the No. 3 seeded Grand Valley State Lakers out of the playoffs, beating them 42-17 in the first round of the Division II football playoffs. The Lakers’ season record ends up at 10-2. 

The biggest play of the game came after GVSU scored their only offensive touchdown of the game – a two-yard run by Jack Provencher – to cut NMSU’s lead to 21-17. After the ensuing kickoff was muffed, leaving the Bearcats at their own 16-yard line, running back Isaiah Strayhorn took the first play of the drive 84 yards for a score that would eventually serve as the clincher. 

“We couldn’t stop the run in the second half,” said GVSU head coach Matt Mitchell. “Obviously, the biggest run was when we cut the thing back down to four points after a really good drive by our offense then we gave up about an 80-yard touchdown. We couldn’t get the guy down. Down by two scores, it gets really difficult to run the ball, we couldn’t get stops and it put us in a bad spot.”

Overall, NMSU ran the ball 43 times for 356 yards and added an extra 92 through the air, averaging a whopping eight yards per play on the game. Meanwhile, the Laker offense struggled, picking up only 230 total yards on 3.5 yards per play, and converted on only four of their 17 third down attempts. 

Quarterback Bart Williams completed 11 of his 25 pass attempts for 108 yards and one interception and was sacked four times while backup quarterback Cole Kotopka completed one of five for 20 yards and one interception while Williams was temporarily sidelined with a leg injury. 

“Up front, they had a solid four guys,” Williams said. “They were getting good pass rush. They had a good scheme within the context of their defense to try and take away some of the stuff that we do really well and the combination of those two, I think, we didn’t adjust well enough to it. Didn’t get the job done, obviously, in the pass game.”

Provencher ran for 60 yards on 16 carries to go with his one touchdown while wide receivers Austin Paritee and Nick Dodson caught five and two passes for 58 and 57 yards, respectively. 

The Lakers forced two turnovers: a fumble-turned-touchdown in NMSU’s end zone recovered by defensive end Dylan Carroll and an interception by linebacker Tyler Bradfield. 

The loss marks the end of the GVSU playing careers for 22 seniors, including the record-shattering Williams, all-conference honorees Carroll, Dodson, tight end Pete Cender, offensive lineman Ben Walling, offensive lineman Dave Dawson, linebacker Brendan McMahon, linebacker Tyree Horton, defensive lineman Kwanii Figueroa, defensive back Jacob Studdard and kicker JJ McGrath, among others. 

“It’s tough because these guys have meant a lot to our program, all of our seniors, whether they’ve been here six years or a few months, it’s been one of the better groups of guys I’ve had in terms of coaching,” Mitchell said. “We’ve had very few issues with anybody off the field, academically, anything. It’s been an unbelievable group of guys. This senior class has meant a lot to us, not just individual accolades, but collectively, they’ve meant a lot. There are a lot of close relationships in that locker room. It’s tough down there right now. 

“It’ll be tough because of the time that they’ve put into it and how well they know each other, but at some point, this day we’ll probably get over, and we’ll proudly look at them collectively at what they’ve meant to this program and what they’ve meant to each other.”