GVSU falls 27-13 in the semifinals to Northwest Missouri State

Courtesy / Doug Witte

Courtesy / Doug Witte

Bryce Derouin

There are 162 football teams in Division II, and 24 of those teams make the playoffs each year, meaning only one team can go out and end the year with a happy ending.

The odds of winning it are low—one in 24—but it still doesn’t take away from the harsh reality of defeat, especially if you left something on the field and missed golden opportunities, which is exactly what happened to the Grand Valley State University football team (12-3) in a 27-13 defeat to Northwest Missouri State University (14-0) in the semifinals of the Division II playoffs.

For GVSU, their chances to take control of the game would come to them early on.

On the second play from scrimmage, Northwest Missouri State senior quarterback Trevor Adams attempted a swing pass that went backwards, but it was behind junior wide receiver Reuben Thomas, resulting in a fumble. GVSU junior defensive end Matt Mosley recovered the football at the Bearcat 17, giving the Lakers solid field position to start the game.

However, GVSU would go three-and-out and have to settle for a 38-yard field goal by freshman Joel Schipper, which he made, and gave GVSU an early 3-0 lead.

GVSU would move the ball deep into Northwest Missouri State territory again. A 28-yard pass from junior quarterback Heath Parling to tight end Joe Wirth would be the Lakers biggest play of the drive, and the Lakers managed to work it all the way to the Bearcat 11, before eventually settling for a 28-yard field goal by Schipper that gave GVSU a 6-0 lead.

“For us, the first two times we had the ball inside the red zone, and we had to settle for field goals there, (it) hurt us,” GVSU head coach Matt Mitchell said. “If we could’ve got a touchdown on one of those two possessions, that probably would have made a difference.

After not converting a first down on its first two drives, Northwest Missouri State found its rhythm on its third series. Sophomore quarterback Brady Bolles made his first appearance of the game, and the change-of-pace quarterback seemed to be what the Bearcats needed, as they converted a nine play, 80-yard scoring drive that was finished by Bolles on a 6-yard touchdown run.

“As we knew heading in, he’s a good football player and provided a spark to their team,” Mitchell said about Bolles. “He came in and provided a spark and made some plays with his feet.”

The Bearcats failed to capitalize on opportunities of their own.

Leading 7-6, Northwest Missouri State had a chance to create some separation midway through the second quarter. The Bearcats had a second-and-goal inside the GVSU 1, but failed to convert. Adams mishandled the snap, and GVSU’s senior safety Erik Thompson recovered.

The Lakers would advance the ball all the way to the Northwest Missouri State 17, but the drive would stall, and GVSU attempted a 34-yard field goal into the wind, but the kick was no good, as it sailed wide right of the upright.

“Just too many opportunities where we got down inside the 20 and had to settle for field goals, or didn’t get points, and you can’t do that against a good team like this,” Mitchell said. “You have to take advantage of some scoring opportunities, but obviously, you have to give them some credit.”

Northwest Missouri State eventually tacked on an 18-yard field goal at the end of the half to give them a 10-6 advantage at the break.

In the second half, it was the Bearcats who got off to the quick start, as they scored the first 10 points of the half. Adams found Thomas on a slant route, and Thomas managed to break a tackle and take it 28 yards for the touchdown.

GVSU had two chances on its next drive to answer with points of its own, but ended up coming away empty-handed.

From the Bearcat 23, Parling faked the screen pass to his left, and threw it to junior running back Ben Hutchins—who was all alone in the end zone—but Hutchins was unable to come up with the diving catch and dropped the pass. GVSU attempted a 36-yard field goal, but Schipper’s kick would fall short and was no good.

The Bearcats made it 20-6 on its ensuing drive, as Simon Mathieson knocked in a 25-yard field goal to give Northwest Missouri State its biggest lead of the game.

With their backs against the wall, GVSU would respond; just like they have all season.

Parling and GVSU engineered an eight play, 77-yard touchdown drive that was capped off on fourth down with a 4-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Jamie Potts to cut the Bearcat lead to seven.

However, the comeback attempt was short lived.

GVSU was able to force Northwest Missouri State to punt on its next possession, but the Lakers were unable to manufacture a scoring drive.

“I’m still proud of this team for getting to this point and the resiliency and fight we showed throughout the course of this game,” Mitchell said. “I thought we stood in there toe-to-toe against a very good football team.”

Northwest Missouri State took over possession with just under seven minutes left, and after a 30-yard completion to Young on third down to keep the drive alive, the Bearcats put the dagger in the game and the Lakers season, as Adams found Thomas on the next play for a 43-yard touchdown pass.

“The biggest backbreaker for us defensively—the whole day—was the play-action pass,” Mitchell said. “Their two backs in the backfield, play-action pass, and getting guys over the middle, and we weren’t doing a very good job (defending) the play-action pass.”

Against the eighth-best scoring defense in the country, GVSU struggled to protect Parling and find success on the ground. Parling was sacked four times and under duress frequently, while junior running back Chris Robinson was the Lakers leading rusher with 55 yards rushing on 15 carries.

“They were as advertised as expected,” Parling said about the highly touted Bearcat defense. “They man you up on the outside and force you to make some plays because they’re going to stop the run, and we did not make enough plays and I did not make enough throws. We just didn’t capitalize on our opportunities and it came back to bite us.”

Parling finished the day 17 of 31 for 239 yards passing and one touchdown pass. Adams was efficient; completing 15 of 21 passes for 284 yards passing and two touchdowns. His quarterback teammate Bolles, converted two of his four pass attempts for 53 yards, and added 56 yards rushing on seven carries and a touchdown.

For GVSU, they’ll graduate 13 seniors off of this year’s team. The same seniors who as redshirt freshman, saw the 2009 Lakers end its season with a loss against Northwest Missouri State in the national championship game.

“I just told the guys in the locker room we only had 13 seniors, and I told the seniors I appreciate what they did for this team and I think now, there’s a lot of guys in that locker room… that understand what it takes to make it to this point, to this level,” Mitchell said. “It’s unfortunate we lose that senior class, but only a couple of them on offense have been playing and I’m hoping that these extra four games—and being 3-1 in the playoffs—will provide some much needed experience for our team moving into 2014.”