Lights out

GVL / Robert Mathews
Reggie Williams returning a kickoff from Hillsdale.

GVL / Robert Mathews Reggie Williams returning a kickoff from Hillsdale.

Bryce Derouin

For the second straight week, the Grand Valley State University defense came up big when it needed to.

Last week at Northwood University, GVSU forced four straight incompletions on the final drive for the Timberwolves to secure the victory. Saturday, the Lakers (7-2, 5-2 GLIAC) held Hillsdale College (4-5, 4-3 GLIAC) to only 104 total yards in the second half—including 22 rushing yards—in a 31-21 win over the Chargers.

“Guys stuck together and kept fighting, and we got it done together,” GVSU head coach Matt Mitchell said. “Defensive coaches and players got together, and we made some adjustments and told the offense that we would get the bleeding stopped on our side. Just keep going out and playing.”

Heading into halftime, GVSU trailed in Lubbers Stadium for the first time this season. Hillsdale efficiently moved the ball through the air and the ground on the way to a 21-14 advantage at the break.

“Hillsdale threw about everything they had at us,” Mitchell said. “They were running the ball effectively on some stuff, and they were getting the wide outs involved in the run game, which was creating us a little bit of issues. Throwbacks to the quarterback, reverses, fake punts … They came after us.”

Surprisingly, the Chargers tallied 152 yards rushing in the first half, which is 32 yards more than they average throughout an entire game (120.6). Hillsdale gained 263 total yards in the first half but finished with just 367. A few halftime adjustments by Mitchell and his staff ended up being the difference in the game.

“We got more aggressive with our safeties,” Mitchell said about the changes GVSU made at halftime. “We got Chuck Hill down around the ball a lot more. We did some things to free up (Jordan) Kaufman with a line stunt that we did in the second half.”

Kaufman led GVSU with eight tackles on the night.

After being named GLIAC Defensive Player of the Week last week, sophomore defensive lineman De’Ondre Hogan continued his strong play, recording seven tackles and 2.5 sacks, while also forcing a fumble.

On offense, GVSU used a balanced attack to record 567 yards of total offense. Junior quarterback Heath Parling made his first start in three weeks and was consistently sharp throughout the night, completing 19 of 29 passes for 298 yards and a touchdown.

“I know at times it was probably frustrating with the play clock, but Heath was getting us in some really good plays,” Mitchell said. “There’s a reason we had 567 yards of offense. He was managing some things at the line of scrimmage and getting us in some good looks. Changing things at the line of scrimmage is a strength of his game, and he did a good job of that tonight.”

Parling’s favorite target on the night was sophomore tight end Jamie Potts. Potts recorded a career-high 157 yards on eight catches and caught the go-ahead touchdown that gave GVSU the lead.

On first-and-10 from the Hillsdale 19, the Chargers brought a blitz, but Parling quickly recognized the pressure and found Potts down the seam for the 19-yard score to put GVSU up 28-21.

“I think we just had some looks we knew could exploit,” Parling said. “That opened up some things underneath for Jamie to run routes, press the coverage, and then kind of break things off.”

Senior running back Chris Robinson led all running backs with 137 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown. Junior running back Michael Ratay had his night cut short in the third quarter after he suffered a leg injury. He finished with 97 yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns.

“After Mike went down, I just knew I had to step-up, and I had a couple coaches tell me to step-up,” Robinson said.

Ratay wasn’t the only key offensive piece for GVSU to sustain an injury and miss the rest of the game. Senior center Matt Armstrong was blocking downfield, and Robinson was tackled and fell on his leg. He tried to return for a couple plays but eventually sat out the rest of the game.

“I’m proud of our team,” Mitchell said. “We had to fight through some stuff with Armstrong going down and Ratay going down and having guys step up and make plays, but it was one of those deals where a lot of different guys chipped in. It was a good win to get us to 7-2.”

GVSU will travel to Wayne State University on Saturday, as the Lakers will look to keep their playoff hopes alive.