Column: How GVSU can regain the GLIAC

GVL / Kevin Sielaff 
Kirk Spencer (27) runs the ball up-field. Grand Valley State squares off against Southwest Baptist Thursday, September 3rd, 2015 at Lubbers Stadium.

Kevin Sielaff

GVL / Kevin Sielaff Kirk Spencer (27) runs the ball up-field. Grand Valley State squares off against Southwest Baptist Thursday, September 3rd, 2015 at Lubbers Stadium.

Adam Knorr

I spoke to three members of the Grand Valley State football team, and coach Matt Mitchell, following the Lakers’ 27-24 win over Ohio Dominican.

“Grit” was the theme of each conversation.

It wasn’t pretty at all times. It wasn’t flashy nor was it easy. But the Lakers did what needed to be done, and moved to 2-0 on the season.

The game featured six lead changes, and GVSU trailed nearly the entire second half, before Joel Schipper’s second field goal put the Lakers up for good.

GVSU’s defense was a bit of an anomaly. ODU gained 415 total yards of offense – and nearly six yards per play – but the Laker defense ended up being the savior of the game.

Led by junior defensive back Marquez Gollman, the Lakers forced five second half turnovers, and limited ODU to just seven second half points.

The often rush-heavy Panthers featured an uncharacteristic offense. Senior running back Brandon Schoen – a Laker-killer for years – stood on the sidelines in shorts and a T-shirt.

ODU quarterback Grant Russell threw 47 passes – completing 24 for 272 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Russell also had the most rushing attempts for the Panthers with 11.

ODU had 26 rushing attempts for 143 net yards. Schoen alone had 183 yards against GVSU last year.

Five years ago, a road win over Ohio Dominican would have been run of the mill.

In recent years, however, Laker fans have become aware that GVSU’s stronghold on the GLIAC is anything but. It’s hard to put a thumb on exactly what the reason is.

GVSU hasn’t won the GLIAC North since 2012. Three years isn’t an absurd stretch, but in Allendale, it can be considered a drought. The emergence of Ferris State, and, to a lesser extent, Michigan Tech, have turned what was once a sure thing into a yearly question for GVSU.

ODU won the GLIAC South last season, and lost just one conference game – to FSU. The Lakers always place a conference title high on their list of preseason goals, and the win in Columbus, Ohio on Saturday did two major things to help them achieve that goal.

First, and foremost, the win kept GVSU is a position to control its own destiny. Sure, it’s only week three, but a single loss in the conference may be enough to dash any hopes of a conference championship.

Second, the win gives the Lakers confidence going into their biggest game of the season. GVSU played ODU and FSU in back-to-back weeks last year, and lost both.

Last weekend’s win over the Panthers fills the Lakers with confidence going into what will be a crucial week of practice. To beat the Bulldogs, GVSU needs to believe it can.

I’m not one to believe the “team who wants it more” will win. Saying that any team wants to win more than another, to me, is nothing more than a buzzword that analysts like to use when they can’t figure out what’s happening in a game.

GVSU wants to win on Saturday. I’m sure FSU does too.

It’s not going to come down to who wants it more, but to who performs better.

On paper, the Bulldogs are the favorite. They return four-year starter and 2014 Harlon Hill winner quarterback Jason Vander Laan.

The game starts, and ends, with Vander Laan.

In week one, GVSU saw its lead shrink when Southwest Baptist put in dual-threat quarterback Trent Edwards II. Edwards II torched the Lakers defense on the ground, which expanded SBU’s ability to pass.

Trent Edwards II is Jason Vander Laan Lite. Mitchell and Co. will have to work with the defense on containing Vander Laan in the rushing department. I’d be surprised if the Lakers didn’t employ a spy on Vander Laan for the majority of the contest.

GVSU has to respect Vander Laan’s ability to run, and its defensive scheme will likely reflect that. As a result, the Lakers’ secondary is going to have the tall task of shutting down FSU’s strong receiving corps and Vander Laan’s passing ability.

FSU comes into the season as the best team in the GLIAC. Saturday’s contest at Lubbers Stadium is a chance for a marquee win for Matt Mitchell. If the Lakers can pull off the upset win, it could be the start of a special season in Allendale.

GVSU’s best bet? Get gritty.