No. 12 GVSU routs No. 3 Ashland in first round of playoffs

GVL / Kevin Sielaff - Matt Williams (24) fights for the ball in mid-air and completes the pass by Bart Williams.  Grand Valley defeats Ashland with a final score of 45-28 Nov. 22 at Ashland University.

Kevin Sielaff

GVL / Kevin Sielaff – Matt Williams (24) fights for the ball in mid-air and completes the pass by Bart Williams. Grand Valley defeats Ashland with a final score of 45-28 Nov. 22 at Ashland University.

Adam Knorr

On Saturday afternoon, the Grand Valley State football team walked into Jack Miller Stadium in Ashland, Ohio, and guaranteed itself one more game in 2015.

Despite a sloppy offensive start, the No. 12 Lakers routed the No. 3 Ashland Eagles 45-28, handing Ashland its first loss of the season in the opening round of the NCAA Division II playoffs.

“Really proud of our team. We all knew the first time we came down here we did not play up to our potential,” said GVSU head coach Matt Mitchell. “We corrected a lot of the errors we made the last time we were down here and we battled. We had some guys beat up. We lost a couple guys here and there; we had guys keep fighting and plugging and found a way to get it done.”

GVSU quarterback Bart Williams threw interceptions on two of his first five passes. Ashland had opportunities to capitalize on the early turnovers, but Eagle quarterback Travis Tarnowski one-upped Williams, tossing three interceptions on his first 10 passes.

Thanks to the duality of the turnovers, the first four interceptions came to just one Ashland touchdown on the scoreboard to put the Eagles up 7-0. Tarnowski’s third pick, however, landed in the hands of GVSU’s Devin McKissic, who raced 32 yards down to the Ashland 4-yard line. One play later, senior Kirk Spencer rushed into the end zone and GVSU pulled even with Ashland at 7-7.

From Spencer’s touchdown onward, it was a whole lot of Lakers. Williams ceased taking deep shots down the sidelines, as a number of his early attempts either flew incomplete or landed in the hands of Ashland defensive backs. GVSU turned to its running game, and the Laker tailbacks complied.

The flash-and-dash combo of Spencer and Marty Carter sparked the Laker offense. Spencer earned the bulk of the carries with 11 in the first half, while Carter rushed six times. Carter scored on a 17-yard sweep along the right sideline to give GVSU its first lead of the game at 14-7 early in the second quarter. The true freshman running back averaged 11.3 yards per carry in the first half.

“Marty (Carter) started us off with a couple big runs and the offensive line was setting up some great holes,” Spencer said. “Just following behind (Aaron) Cox, (Jim) Walsh, Rev (Brandon Revenberg), they just led the way.”

With the running game occupying Ashland’s attention, Williams flourished. The Laker quarterback largely threw more conservative passes, hitting receivers on slant routes and check-offs to the flat, but still found receivers deep on occasion.

“I’ve learned over the season (that) you can’t take time to shut down,” Williams said. “You just have to keep attacking and doing what the coaches are asking you to do no matter what the results are.”

The GVSU defense surrendered a first-quarter touchdown to Eagle running back Vance Settlemire, but otherwise silenced the Ashland offense. Along with the three early interceptions, GVSU pressured Tarnowski and locked onto Ashland receivers. Settlemire, who rushed for 147 yards against GVSU last game, gained just 60 yards on the ground on Saturday.

In the second quarter, defensive end Matt Judon whipped around the end and enveloped Tarnowski, slamming him to the turf. With the sack, Judon moved into first-place on the GVSU all-time career sack list with 33.5. Judon broke now-Jacksonville Jaguar Dan Skuta’s record.

Judon brought his season total to 20.5 sacks in the game, breaking the NCAA Division II single-season sack record.

“I just (have) great teammates and it was great to come out here and compete,” Judon said. “We’re all competitors. We knew what we did last game. We know that sometimes there’s going to be some missed calls or bad plays but we just have to keep our heads and chests up.”

A 13-yard pass from Tarnowski to Settlemire opened the scoring in the game, but Spencer’s short touchdown run late in the first quarter tied the game at 7-7. Carter’s 14-yard sprint sent the Lakers ahead by a score, and the lead only expanded from there.

Midway through the second quarter, Williams zipped a pass into Nick Dodson’s gut on a 2-yard slant route touchdown. Ashland managed to stick around, as Settlemire scored on a 4-yard reception a few minutes later.

In a textbook two-minute drive, the Lakers all but ended Ashland’s perfect season. With 34 seconds left in the half, Spencer took a 3-yard pass into the end zone to send GVSU ahead 28-14. From there, GVSU could coast.

“That was huge to get that two-score lead back,” Mitchell said.

A 23-yard field goal from Joel Schipper marked the first scoring of the second half to put the Lakers up 31-17. Aided by a targeting call on GVSU’s Collin Schlosser on a fourth-and-11 scramble by Tarnowski, the Eagles got a first down in the red zone. A few plays later, Settlemire scored on a 7-yard rush to bring the score to 31-21.

Settlemire’s third touchdown came at the end of the third quarter and granted Ashland a glimmer of hope. That glimmer was darkened, however, when Carter scored on a 4-yard rush soon after.

The Lakers were up 38-21 with 12:07 to go in the game after the Carter touchdown.

Backup quarterback Ollie Ajami entered the game for the Lakers late in the fourth quarter, and sprinted 14 yards into the end zone to give the Lakers a 45-21 lead with just over three minutes remaining.

Ashland scored the final touchdown of the game, as Tarnowski found Max Shawver for a 4-yard score with 2:36 to go.

Bart Williams finished 17-33 for 231 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.

Spencer led the rushing attack, racking up 105 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. He also had four catches for 28 yards and a touchdown.

Carter totaled 99 yards on 14 carries to go with two touchdowns.

Matt Williams led the Laker receivers with five catches for 116 yards. Dodson caught five passes for 52 yards and a touchdown.

GVSU outgained Ashland 461 to 357, and was a perfect 7 for 7 in the red zone.

GVSU avenged its Oct. 31 loss to Ashland with the win, and will get a chance to make up for its only other loss this season in the next round of the playoffs. The Lakers will square off against No. 2 Ferris State in Big Rapids, Michigan on Nov. 28. The two teams met on Sept. 19 – a game FSU won 61-24.

The Bulldogs beat Texas A&M – Commerce 48-30 on Saturday and remain undefeated.