GVSU Football Wins Season Opener

GVL/ Nathen Mehmed

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GVL/ Nathen Mehmed

Brady Fredericksen

By Brady Fredericksen
GVL Sports Editor

When the game began with a delay of game penalty on the opening kickoff, it just felt like it was going to be one of those nights for the visiting Western Oregon University football team.

The Grand Valley State University students had packed the new south end zone bleachers, and you could feel the electricity flowing through the Thursday night air. turns out it was, as the No. 5 Grand Valley State University football team jumped out to a 23-0 lead at the half and never looked back as they defeated the Wolves by a 44-20 final.

In front of 15,004 fans – the second-most ever at Lubbers Stadium – the Lakers came out conservatively on offense under first-time starting quarterback Heath Parling. After going three-and-out on their first drive, the offense rebounded, striking on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Parling to sophomore receiver Charles Johnson.

While the passing game got the Lakers on the board, the dual-rushing attack of juniors Norman Shuford and Hersey Jackson was productive as well. They combined to run for 103 yards and a touchdown – both backs carried 10 times in what looks like a timeshare.

GVSU followed up Parling’s first touchdown toss with a Brandon Allen safety, followed by another passing touchdown by Parling – this time a nine-yard strike to senior receiver Jovonne Augustus.

Parling finished the game 15-for-27 with 205 yards and three touchdowns. Despite his stats, Parling struggled with his progressions and had some under throws, but did find a connection with Johnson – who finished with three catches for 63 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

“I’m a little disappointed in myself. I know it’s the first game, but I still expect to play a lot better than that,” said Parling, a sophomore. “I felt a lot more comfortable when I was locked onto one target, but the success of Norman, Hersey and our guys up front really set up things for me in the passing game.”

While the offense did its job – out-gaining the Wolves by 200 yards in the first half without the services of senior receiver Greg Gay, who was out with a hamstring injury – it was the play of the special teams that made the biggest impact for GVSU in the win.

From forcing three fumbles on kick and punt returns to junior receiver Isreal Woolfork returning sophomore safety Erik Thompson’s blocked punt for a five-yard touchdown, the Lakers’ special teams impacted the entire game.

“We saw something on tape with their punt team, and between our coaches and also our players executing, we got the blocked punt – which was huge,” said GVSU head coach Matt Mitchell, who’s now 12-2 in his career. “Our ability to capitalize on the special team’s turnovers was probably what got the game to where we were.”

Despite the final score, GVSU will leave Thursday’s game with concerns with its defense. The defensive line, which recorded four sacks, had trouble slowing down Western Oregon’s running game – a problem that has carried over from 2010.

“In the first half, our defensive line had a lot of penetration and created a lot of problems,” said Mitchell. “Our inexperience on defense showed up early, and you could tell a couple of our guys – like (defensive back) Charles Hill – were on the field for the first time.”

While the defense allowed only 82 rushing yards in the game, they still had some breakdowns – most notably a 62-yard scamper by Western Oregon running back Kenneth Haynes – that will need to be addressed.

The line pressured the quarterback well, recording five sacks, but even with the return of senior defensive tackle Danny Richard, struggled at times against the run.

“It just feels really good to see that we have four, solid d-lineman out there,” said Richard, who had three tackles in the contest. “We’ve got to watch the tape first, but we need to get more penetration on the run and make sure we stay in our gaps and fly around like a Grand Valley defense is known for.”

GVSU will look to build on the win as they prepare to travel to Hillsdale College on Sept. 10. In last season’s match-up, the Lakers won a home shoot-out with the Chargers, 44-41.

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