Grand Valley knocks Cardinals from playoffs again
December 5, 2005 —
Try as they might, the SVSU football team just cannot beat Grand Valley State in the playoffs.
Playing at home Saturday, Nov. 26, the Lakers forced five Cardinals turnovers, including four by sophomore quarterback Chris Dougherty, to defeat SVSU for the third straight time in the postseason, 24-17.
After mostly dominating the first half despite three turnovers, the Cardinals could not hold a 14-7 halftime lead as Grand Valley rang off 17 unanswered points in the second half for the victory.
"We've played in so many of these games here," Grand Valley coach Chuck Martin said. "We made mistakes, but we kept moving forward. We don't worry about it. We move on."
GVSU had two costly turnovers of its own in the first half, including a fumbled snap by junior quarterback Cullen Finnerty at the Lakers' 20-yard line with just 50 seconds left in the half. The Cardinals used four plays to capitalize on the mistake, scoring on an eight-yard pass from Dougherty to senior running back Justin Barcey with 18 seconds left.
If not for SVSU's turnovers in the first half, the Cardinals could have put the game away early. The Lakers were held to just 91 yards in the first half as SVSU racked up 146. But two Dougherty interceptions and a fumble by Barcey halted any chance of the Cardinals widening their lead.
"We knew we had to force turnovers, and we did," said Lakers junior linebacker and Saginaw Heritage graduate Mike McFadden, who finished with seven tackles, three for loss, two sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery.
The Cardinals opened the scoring in the half with a three-yard run by senior Logan Barnhart with 2:52 left in the first quarter. The run, off a direct snap, capped an eight-play, 50-yard drive jumpstarted by a 20-yard punt return by senior Stan Spencer.
Neither team scored until late in the second quarter, when Lakers redshirt freshman linebacker Dan Skuta intercepted Dougherty at the Cardinals' 40-yard line and returned it 27 yards. The pick set up an eight-yard pass from Finnerty to junior wide receiver Terry Mitchell four plays later to tie the game.
The 13-yard drive was one of the longest for the Lakers in the half.
"We were pretty brutal all around (in the first half)," Finnerty said. "But our defense kept us in it; we stayed together, and played as a team."
Despite some bickering during halftime that Martin said he stopped immediately in the locker room, the Lakers scored on their second, third, and fourth drives of the second half."We took over the second half," Martin said.
The Lakers totaled 217 yards in the half, while forcing two more SVSU turnovers and holding the Cardinals to 121 yards. The Lakers used big plays both on offense and defense to dominate the half.
They used a 12-play, 58-yard drive to tie the game, capped by a 16-yard pass up the seam from Finnerty to senior tight end Jeremy Cochrane. The touchdown pass came on fourth-and-one at the SVSU 16-yard line, and was the Lakers' second fourth-down conversion of the drive.
The conversions drained any momentum the Cardinals had.
"(Those plays) were an opportunity to take the defense off the field," senior linebacker John DiGiorgio said. "They just capitalized on our mistakes."
After forcing the Cardinals into a three-and-out on the next drive, GVSU took over at their own 19-yard line. On the second play of the drive, Finnerty completed a 58-yard bomb to junior wide receiver Eric Fowler down to the Cardinals' 23. The Lakers took the lead four plays later on a 33-yard field goal by senior Scott Greene with 59 seconds left in the third quarter.
SVSU had several attempts to take the lead after that, but Dougherty fumbled on consecutive drives both in Cardinals territory.
The first fumble, forced by senior defensive tackle Quartez Vickerson, was recovered by freshman defensive tackle Ryan Gaydosh at the Cardinals' 35-yard line. The Lakers were able to make it to the SVSU 7 before DiGiorgio stopped senior wide receiver Brandon Langston on fourth-and-one.
Forcing the turnover on downs, SVSU appeared to have the momentum as it drove its way back to its 46-yard line. After a holding call pushed the Cardinals back 10 yards, Dougherty scrambled from the pocket, faked a throw and was hit by sophomore linebacker and Saginaw High graduate Kirk Carruth and fumbled again. McFadden recovered, and though GVSU was called for a personal foul penalty after the play, the damage was done.
The Lakers proceeded to run 4:18 off the clock, rushing eight straight times before senior Ryan Hukill ran it in from the one-yard line for a 24-14 lead.
"We knew we had to wrap the game up," said Hukill, who subbed in for junior running back Astin Martin, who was knocked woozy earlier in the drive.
The Cardinals were almost let right back in the game after junior Mark Catlin muffed a Dustin Esslin punt with 3:37 left at the GVSU 30-yard line. Dougherty was pulled after his last fumble in favor of junior Vinnie Miroth, and SVSU was only able to get a field goal off the turnover, however, and was unable to recover the ensuing onside kick.
Barnhart finished the game with 79 yards on 23 carries as SVSU averaged just 2.7 yards per carry.
"We had some success running today," he said. "But I thought we could have had more. You'll never win a game with five turnovers."
Sophomore wide receiver Rick Cottengim led SVSU with six catches for 64 yards, while Dougherty, passed for 140 yards on 14-of-25 passing.
Finnerty was held to 116 yards with the two touchdowns on 8-of-18 passing, but the Lakers earned their win on the ground, rushing 53 times for 192 yards. Martin finished with 108 yards on 22 carries, while Hukill had 48 on 11 carries.
DiGiorgio led the SVSU defense with 13 tackles, while senior defensive tackle Chad Steele had eight tackles, three for loss.
"I love the playoff system, but today I hate it," Cardinals coach Randy Awrey said. "This game just shows what kind of conference we have. This could have been the national championship game."
Awrey could have been right, as the Lakers defeated East Stroudsburg 55-20 on Saturday in Allendale. GVSU heads to Florence, Alabama for the national championship for the fourth time in five years, playing Northwest Missouri State, ranked 20th in the nation and sixth in the Southwest Region, who beat North Alabama 25-24 Saturday.
With the win over East Stroudsburg, the Lakers improved to 16-2 in the playoffs since 2001.