Slain in the Rain: GVSU loses to Ashland on last-second Hail Mary

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Slain in the Rain: GVSU loses to Ashland on last-second Hail Mary

GVL \ Sheila Babbitt

GVL \ Sheila Babbitt

GVL \ Sheila Babbitt

GVL \ Sheila Babbitt

Kellen Voss, Sports Editor

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It was looking like another signature win for the No. 9 Grand Valley State football team as they forced the Ashland Eagles into a fourth-and-five with three seconds left at Lubbers Stadium and called a timeout to set up a prevent defense.

Ashland quarterback Austin Brenner must have taken a swig of Michael Jordan’s secret stuff and rubbed his lucky rabbit’s foot in that timeout before launching a 52-yard throw to the end zone that was placed perfectly in between five GVSU defenders and into the hands of an Ashland receiver to give the Eagles the win, 20-17.

The GVSU announcer was so unenthusiastic about the Hail Mary that his call went viral and got featured on the ESPN College Football Twitter page.

“We didn’t make a play,” said GVSU coach Matt Mitchell. “I give Ashland credit. (It was a) tough, hard-fought victory. You got to close games like that out. We had many opportunities to close it out and we did not close it out.”

GVSU went on what looked to be a game-winning drive of their own with 2:34 left in the game. After getting stuck on a fourth-and-12 play, quarterback Cole Kotopka scrambled out of the pocket and found his senior receiver Austin Paritee for a clutch, 24-yard snag.

Kotopka found sophomore Jacob Miller down the seam on the very next play, where Miller made a sliding, 23-yard touchdown catch to give the Lakers a 17-14 lead with 49 seconds left.

It has been three weeks since Laker fans have seen Kotopka throw the football, as he has been out for the past two games with a shoulder injury. He played solid in his return, throwing for 150 yards and two touchdowns while also rushing for 48 yards.

“I thought (Kotopka) played pretty well,” Mitchell said. “It was a rough week to come back because with the rain, it was difficult to throw the ball. He scrambled around, made some runs and did what he’s good at with extending plays. He had a lot of guts on that drive that got us back in the lead, but it’s a frustrating finish.”

Ironically for GVSU, this was the first game where they didn’t lose the turnover battle. While Kotopka threw a pick in the third quarter, junior defensive back Grant Postma picked off Brenner in the fourth quarter. It was the Zeeland West alum’s first interception of the season.

While GVSU’s defense was solid for most of the game and held Ashland to zero points in the first three quarters, they gave up some big plays in that final quarter and allowed Ashland to rush for 234 yards, giving up touchdown runs of 28 yards and 44 yards in that fourth quarter.

“In the second half, we didn’t execute.” Mitchell said. “We didn’t stop the run well enough, and it was absolutely too many to give up in the second half.”

Despite the defense wearing down in the end, junior linebacker Tyler Bradfield had a strong game, leading the defense with a season-high 14 tackles and one tackle-for-loss, constantly stopping Ashland’s runs.

“Tyler has been a super consistent performer,” Mitchell said. “He’s an all-conference type guy, and he’s a dude that brings his best every time he steps on the field. Wish we could have done better on their three fourth conversions, but Tyler played like a champion as you would expect.”

With the loss, GVSU falls to 4-1 on the season, and will look to rebound with another home game Saturday, Oct. 12, in the Battle of the Valleys. Kickoff with Saginaw Valley State is set for 7 p.m.