GVSU to host Ferris State in GLIAC heavyweight bout

GVL/Kevin Sielaff - Bart Williams (6) warms up on the sideline as the game gets underway. The Lakers square off against the Panthers of Ohio Dominican University Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016 and win with a final score of 24-21 in Columbus, OH.

Kevin Sielaff

GVL/Kevin Sielaff – Bart Williams (6) warms up on the sideline as the game gets underway. The Lakers square off against the Panthers of Ohio Dominican University Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016 and win with a final score of 24-21 in Columbus, OH.

Beau Troutman

The last time the Ferris State Bulldogs were in Lubbers Stadium, they walked out with a 61-24 win over Grand Valley State.

To the Lakers, that game might as well have been a decade ago.

“That game seems like it was 10 years ago,” said GVSU coach Matt Mitchell. “I don’t really even worry about what happened in 2015. I’m on to 2016. These are completely different teams.”

The Bulldogs (4-1, tied for second in GLIAC North) will be back at Lubbers this Saturday, Oct. 8, for a game against the Lakers with major GLIAC implications on the line. The Lakers (5-0, first in GLIAC standings) could potentially solidify themselves as the favorite to finish first in the north.

A loss to the Bulldogs could potentially result in a three-way tie for first in the GLIAC North with the Bulldogs and the Wayne State Warriors (4-1, tied for second in GLIAC North), if the Warriors can beat Findlay (2-3).

Furthermore, a loss would mean the fifth consecutive regular season loss to the Bulldogs, though the last meeting between the two was an impressive 38-34 GVSU win in last year’s playoffs on the Lakers’ run to the national semifinal. The Lakers lead the all-time series 27-16-1.

GVSU coach Matt Mitchell and the Lakers know what this game means for their season goals.

“It’s one of many big opportunities in their life,” Mitchell said. “I’m not going to put any more gravity on that than any other times that we’ve had opportunities to prove ourselves in a competitive arena. I don’t think our guys will be overwhelmed, I think they know the implications of this contest.

“These guys have really high expectations for themselves.”

This will be the first time in four years the Lakers will face a Bulldog team not quarterbacked by two-time Harlon Hill award recipient Jason VanderLaan, who graduated after last season.

The Bulldogs are led by junior quarterback and Eastern Michigan transfer Reggie Bell, who leads the team in both passing (1,048 yards, five touchdowns, four interceptions) and rushing (491 yards, five touchdowns). Bell and starting running back Jahaan Brown (476 yards, two touchdowns) provide a one-two punch for an offense that operates mainly out of the read option. The Bulldogs feature a wide receiving corps that includes five different players with 12 or more receptions.

“(Bell) is electric,” Mitchell said. “It’ll be a big challenge for our defense. Jason VanderLaan was a great layer that a lot of people in our building have respect for what he did, but this is going to be a different style of quarterback that we’re going to have to face.”

The Bulldogs’ defense ranks fifth in points allowed per game (22) and third in yards allowed per game (346).

The Bulldogs’ only loss came against Ashland (4-1, first in GLIAC South) at home, meaning this game could determine the outlook for the rest of their season should GVSU win. A 4-2 record heading into the rest of GLIAC play would not bode well for a team vying for a postseason berth.

The Lakers will finally have the support of a Lubbers Stadium home crowd again against the Bulldogs. They are back home for the first time in two weeks, after notching road wins over Walsh 38-0 and Ohio Dominican 24-21.

The game against Ohio Dominican served as a gut-check for a group of Laker starters that had not played a full four quarters due to their large margins of victory in their first four games. Sophomore cornerback Devin McKissic made a game-saving interception that earned him GLIAC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

The Lakers will bring that experience and mentality into a game that figures to be a closely contested matchup. Three of the Bulldogs’ wins have been decided by three points or less.

“I feel like as a defense, we’ve gotten more confident,” said GVSU senior linebacker David Talley. “We got put into some adverse situations (against ODU), we had guys making big plays when we needed them. It has our defense feeling like we can make plays when we need to.”

GVSU ranks first in the GLIAC in points per game (42.4), second in offensive yards per game (522.2), first in points allowed per game (11.8) and first in yardage allowed per game (300.4).

With quarterback Bart Williams, running back Martayveus Carter and arguably the best receiving corps in the GLIAC, the Lakers know what they’re capable of when all cylinders are firing.

The 2015 regular season blowout doesn’t matter to the Lakers. For this team, every week brings its own set of challenges.

That won’t be any different Saturday.

“It’s just another game,” said senior receiver Matt Williams. “You’ve got to approach it as that. We’ve got to come out and execute in practice each day, each week. Sure, it’s our senior year, but like I said, it’s just another guaranteed opportunity for us to go out and play.”

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. and Tailgate Village lots open at 4 p.m. The game will be live-streamed at www.watchespn.com.