GV football keeps playoff hopes alive in second round thriller


GVL / Macayla Cramer

Brian Bloom, Staff Writer

In a grit and grind effort, Grand Valley State University’s football team (12-0) narrowly defeated Northwest Missouri State University 13-8 to advance to the quarterfinals in the NCAA DII Playoffs.

“We knew this would be a really tough test for us, a really difficult test,” said Head Coach Matt Mitchell. “There are some things we could’ve done better, but I give the guys a ton of credit. We were down in the fourth quarter and we have a group that never fractures. There’s nobody pointing fingers on the sideline, there’s never anybody that doesn’t believe we can get it done.”

Hosting the game at home as the No. 1 seed in the DII rankings, the Laker defense flipped the switch on the opponent in just the third play from scrimmage as sophomore defensive back Nyzier Fourqurean intercepted a pass at the NWSU 29-yard line.

However, the Bearcats’ defense responded in a much-needed effort as they forced three incomplete pass attempts by junior quarterback Cade Peterson and allowed just a three-yard gain in total on a rush by junior running back Tariq Reid.

10 minutes and 53 seconds of scoreless action would finally produce the first score of the game with just 1:50 remaining in the first quarter.

Facing a third-and-three from their own 18-yard line, Peterson found an opening in the defense and exploited it, scampering for 42 yards to give the Lakers a fresh set of downs on the Bearcat 40-yard line. Two plays later on a third-and-14 to go, Peterson found sophomore wide receiver Jahdae Walker for a 29-yard gain, setting up a four-yard touchdown run by Reid to give GVSU a 7-0 lead with plenty of game left.

“Our offense scored the first possession and the last possession,” Mitchell said. “In between, it was definitely frustrating at times because we were moving the ball, but we just got bogged down in the red zone.”

NMSU’s offense found a hole in the GVSU secondary, completing a 53-yard pass to set themselves up just 22 yards from the endzone. However, the Laker defense came up huge as they prevented any further momentum to be built, ultimately resulting in a missed 36-yard field goal attempt by the Bearcats to preserve their lead.

The offense marched down the field, aided by a 38-yard completion from Peterson to sophomore wide receiver Darrell Johnson. Four plays later, junior kicker Josh Gorball missed a field goal from 37 yards away, shifting the momentum back to the Bearcats.

The opponents were able to respond to the miss with a 76-yard drive in just six plays, but the GVSU defense demonstrated why they remained undefeated in the regular season.

With their backs against the wall, GVSU forced a fumble at their own seven-yard line as redshirt sophomore defensive back Damonte McCurdy scooped up the ball to give the Lakers possession once more. However, the team’s second forced turnover would prove fruitless as the remaining 6 minutes and 40 seconds saw no scoring action, resulting in the halftime break.

Starting the third quarter with possession, the Laker offense drove into the red zone once again, threatening to extend their lead to two touchdowns. However, the offense was halted and faced a fourth-and-goal at the one-yard line when Reid was stopped short of the endzone, giving the ball back to the Bearcats.

The Bearcat offense would eat up most of the quarter’s game clock as they gained 82 yards on 15 plays in seven minutes and nine seconds, ultimately finishing with a 34-yard field goal to make the score 7-3 with 3:30 left to play in the third quarter. A holding penalty called on the Lakers in the kick return would be damaging to their chances of responding to the field goal as the ball was moved back from their 16-yard line all the way to the eight-yard line.

Facing a third-and-nine situation, Peterson was sacked and fumbled the ball in his own endzone, giving up a safety and making the score 7-5 with the ball headed back into the Bearcats’ hands. 

Looking as if they would take the lead after pushing the ball down to the GVSU 16-yard line, Fourqurean came up big with his second interception for a one-yard gain, giving the offense possession going into the final quarter.

After the drive stalled out, the Bearcats returned to the red zone, this time putting up more points as a 25-yard field goal put Northwest Missouri in the lead 7-8 with just under 4 minutes to play (3:49).

On the ensuing Laker drive, they faced a must-score situation. On a third-and-one from their own 37-yard line, Peterson and Walker connected on a 52-yard pass, setting up the offense with a first down at the Bearcat 11-yard line.

“We repped (the pass play to Jahdae) multiple times in practice and the way the game was going, it felt like coach (Matt Vitzthum) made a great call and Jahdae made a great play, caught the ball when it was needed most and we finished it off with (Reid’s) run,” Peterson said.

Two plays later, Reid took a handoff and crossed paydirt for the second time, making the score 13-8 after a failed two-point conversion by a Peterson rush attempt.

At the worst time possible, the Bearcats began to unravel.

An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty allowed the Lakers to send their kickoff from the 50-yard line, a duo-sack for a loss of seven yards by junior defensive end Colton Hyble and junior linebacker Abe Swanson, another unsportsmanlike penalty for a loss of nine yards and another duo-sack by defensive tackle Johnanthony Lowery and junior linebacker Stephen Roncelli pushed the Bearcats back to their own nine-yard line.

To cap off the possession that was a must-score-to-win situation, Fourqurean’s presence in the air space would secure the win as he grasped his third interception of the afternoon, finishing the game in a 13-8 Laker victory.

“The most important (interception) for me was definitely the last one because it sealed the game, but I have to thank the guys up front for allowing me to get the picks,” Fourqurean said. “They make my job so much easier on the back end and I just have to thank my coaches for putting me in the position to make those plays.”

In their lowest scoring output of the season, GVSU tallied 200 of their 394 total yards in the rushing game with 10 of their 24 pass attempts completed.

“We have to be better in the passing game than we were today, but when you have a defense that has your back and a run game that plays well consistently, it’s not as impactful in a game like that,” Peterson said.

Peterson would finish with nine of 23 completed passes for 173 yards, while also adding 78 yards on the ground. Reid also had a standout performance, rushing for 98 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, and Walker had three catches for 87 yards to lead the Lakers in the passing game.

“(The trust the team has is) huge for me because there were a few possessions that we faced some adversity, but just knowing that the coaches and the guys up front trust me to make plays is big,” Reid said.

In a game highlighted by defense, GVSU gave up 302 yards but only 53 yards on the ground by the Bearcats as a multitude of Lakers showed up in the secondary unit.

“Our defense kept going out there and getting red zone stops and we only gave up six points,” Mitchell said. “To go into a playoff game and give up six points is incredible. We kept getting stops and creating turnovers and battling.”

In what could be the biggest game of the season for the Lakers, the team will host Ferris State University at home next weekend in hopes to advance to the NCAA National Semifinals the following weekend. GVSU defeated the Bulldogs 22-21 on the road in week seven, dishing their rival its only loss of the season (11-1). 

This matchup will also be a redemption opportunity for the Lakers as last season’s playoffs ended in a disappointing 20-54 loss in the second round.

The game will be played on Dec. 3 with kickoff at 1 p.m. at Lubbers Stadium.