Physical play pushes Lakers past Northern Michigan

The Lakers congratulate tight end Andrew Lorman after he made the opening touchdown of the game.

Eric Coulter

The Lakers congratulate tight end Andrew Lorman after he made the opening touchdown of the game.

Cody Eding

Justin Sherrod and the rest of the Grand Valley State University football team are not going to shy away from a little physical play.

Although he took several big hits Saturday night, the senior running back still racked up 109 yards on 13 carries as the top-ranked Lakers came away with a 28-7 victory over visiting Northern Michigan University.

“I got smacked a couple times,” said Sherrod. “That comes with the position, you know. I mean, I don’t mind getting hit. It’s football – you’re going to get hit. You just got to pop back up. They definitely were physical though. One of the most physical teams for sure.”

Facing a Northern Michigan team with several 300-pound or larger players on each side of the ball, the Lakers (6-0, 5-0 GLIAC) dominated for much of the game.

“It was much more physical than our previous three games,” said GVSU head coach Matt Mitchell. “It was a lot of hard contact, a lot of hard hitting. And, I really think we came out on the better end of the deal. I mean, I thought our guys were in good shape.”

GVSU jumped out to a 21-0 halftime lead by knifing through the Wildcats with its two speedy running backs.

Sophomore Norman Shuford continued his solid play in his timeshare with Sherrod. Shuford, who transfered to GVSU from the University of Akron before the season, had 83 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 11 attempts.

“When our offensive coordinator (Eric Koehler) came into the locker room (at halftime), he told us that we would be running the ball into certain looks,” Shuford said. “My face lit up like a light bulb. I was so happy and I know Justin Sherrod was also.”

The Lakers methodically attacked the Wildcat defense, opting to run instead of pass. After starting the season at a blistering pace, senior quarterback Kyle McMahon fell back to earth. He completed 9-of-16 passes for only 83 yards, and his second interception of the season killed a GVSU scoring opportunity in the end zone during the third quarter.

Five of McMahon’s completions were to junior wide receiver Greg Gay, who is fast becoming the No. 1 target for the Lakers. Gay finished with 62 yards receiving.

Often it was the referees who stopped the Lakers more than the Northern Michigan defense. GVSU committed several holding infractions that negated big gains by the offense.

Penalties continue to be an issue on both sides of the ball – the Lakers were flagged 10 times for 76 yards – and were the only negative to an otherwise sparkling performance by the GVSU defense.

The Lakers limited Northern Michigan to 241 yards of offense on 56 plays. At halftime, the Lakers had only allowed three rushing yards on 10 attempts to the Wildcats.

GVSU tallied three sacks, including two by junior safety Zach Breen. The defensive veterans – Breen, senior linebacker Justin Victor and senior defensive end Nick Lawrence – paced the Lakers throughout the night. Victor totaled nine tackles, while Lawrence added seven more of his own.

The Lakers will need the strong play to continue from that defensive core as they head into the final half of the season.

“I think all those guys … probably felt like they didn’t play as well as they needed to at the beginning of the season,” Mitchell said. “I remember distinctly watching the tape after the Hillsdale game with those guys. There was some guys with some pretty disgusted looks on their faces.

“Since then, they’ve come to work every day and there’s been a sense of urgency,” Mitchell added. “They’ve stepped up their games, and I think they’ve brought some of these younger guys along with them, too.”

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