With 6-1 record, playoffs still within sights despite loss to Grand Valley
October 17, 2005 —
This wasn't how it was supposed to turn out - not just for the SVSU football team, or even the Grand Valley State football team, but the game in general.
The game, being billed as the game of the year in Division II, was not supposed to be a blowout for either team. The Lakers were not supposed to score almost as many points in one game as the Cardinals had given up all year. The Cardinals were not supposed to turn the ball over five times.
Yet all that and more occurred in the Lakers' 21-point victory Saturday night in front of 14,472 fans at Lubbers Stadium in Allendale.
"Let's face it, Grand Valley is a good football team," coach Randy Awrey said following the game. "They did what they needed to do to win."
After the Cardinals dominated the first quarter, the Lakers fought back and took advantage of four SVSU turnovers and a backbreaking safety to win the regular season matchup between the rivals for the first time in three years.
The Cardinals opened the scoring with a 43-yard Bobby Belmonte field goal with four and a half minutes left in the first quarter. By the end of the quarter, SVSU had amassed 83 yards of offense to the Lakers' 22.
The Lakers defense, with the help of two SVSU fumbles, held the Cardinals to just 52 yards in the second quarter, while the Grand Valley offense rang up 141 yards the rest of the half.
The first fumble, by sophomore Rick Cottengim after a 13-yard punt return, gave the Lakers possession at the SVSU 43-yard line. GVSU had excellent field position from that point on in the quarter and were able to capitalize, scoring on two option runs, a five-yard run by senior Ryan Hukill and a four-yarder by junior quarterback Cullen Finnerty.
"Turnovers were a big issue," Awrey said. "We cannot expect to win playing like that."
Sophomore quarterback Chris Dougherty, coming off an injury that sidelined him against Mercyhurst, was just 11-for-22 for 90 yards in the half. Senior running back Logan Barnhart carried 10 times for 37 yards, but had a 17-yard run to the Grand Valley 47-yard line wiped out after fumbling with 1:44 left in the half.
The 14 points scored by the Lakers were the most the Cardinals had given up in one game all season.
Awrey admitted the defense did not play well, but was not expecting the nation's second-best scoring defense to give up only its usual six points per game.
"You're not going to shut out a team like Grand Valley," he said. "The defense did not play up to our standards."
The defense came out strong in the second half, holding the Lakers on their first drive to just 13 yards. But on the Cardinals' third play from scrimmage in the half, Dougherty bobbled the snap, scrambled slightly, and was intercepted by junior linebacker Matt Beaty at the Cardinals' 35-yard line.
Although the Lakers missed a field goal attempt on the subsequent drive, they still maintained field position. After forcing the Cardinals to punt, the Lakers capitalized on a 15-yard punt return from junior Mark Catlin to get to the SVSU 37-yard line. Three plays later, Hukill scored again on a 29-yard run, putting the Cardinals in an 18-point hole.
The Cardinals used a 19-play, 79-yard drive at the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth to cut the lead to 21-10. The defense responded well, forcing the Lakers to punt on their next drive. Senior Matt Regnery's punt looked as if it was going to bounce into the end zone for a touchback, but according to Awrey the ball hit one of the officials in the leg and was downed at the five-yard line.
Hoping to recreate the magic of the 96-yard score a week prior, Awrey decided to bring junior quarterback Vinnie Miroth into the game.
Backed up near their own end zone right by the loud GVSU student section, Awrey said he was hoping for a big play.
"We put Vinnie in there to try to throw the ball deep," he said. "We wanted to hit a big one. It was an intended call."
The big play, however, came from Lakers junior defensive end Mike McFadden, as he sacked Miroth in the end zone for a safety and deflated any hopes of a Cardinals comeback.
McFadden, a Saginaw Heritage graduate, raised his season total to nine sacks.
"That was huge," he said of the safety. "We came into the game saying 'who wants it more.' We put a lot of extra preparation and extra practice into this week."
The 6'1", 225-pound McFadden admitted this game meant more than the others.
"I was ecstatic playing against them," he said about his hometown team. "I have a lot of family (in Saginaw) and a cousin who goes to SVSU. The whole week I was getting phone calls about the game."
The Lakers added another Hukill touchdown run after the safety and converted the two-point conversion to bring the scoring to an end.
In its previous six games, the SVSU defense had allowed just 37 points total and had given up an average of just 235 yards per game. The Lakers gained 350 yards in scoring their 31 points.
The SVSU offense's performance was below average, as well. Coming into the game it had gained an average of almost 448 yards per game, but was held to 241 total yards. Dougherty threw another interception with the game all but decided late in the fourth quarter; in his previous five starts, he had thrown just one.
Despite the lopsided win, Awrey remained optimistic as usual.
"Life ain't over with yet," he said. "This game was only one-tenth of our schedule. We still have three more games to go. Most people would like to be 6-1 right now."
The Cardinals travel to Northern Michigan Saturday to play the 2-5 Wildcats at 1 p.m.