The Grand Valley State football team was forced to shed its invincibility cloak, thanks to a historic upset at the hands of Hillsdale earlier this season, and while the Lakers aren’t exactly plotting for revenge this week, they are making sure they don’t make the same mistakes twice.
GVSU lost its No. 1 ranking in a 27-24 loss at Frank “Muddy” Waters Stadium on Oct. 10, but a home loss to the Chargers in the regional semifinals Saturday would mean the end of their season and talks of their reign as the GLIAC’s best being over.
At a press conference earlier this week, Lakers’ head coach Chuck Martin and his players gave plenty of credit to what Hillsdale has accomplished, and talked about ways they can reverse the outcome of the first meeting.
“It’s different when you play a team in the playoffs who is in your league, because there’s not a whole lot of surprises. There’s a reason Hillsdale is 10-2, there’s a reason we’re 10-1,” Martin said. “Neither team is going to come out and jump into the Wildcat offense and do something completely different. On the other hand, every time you play a time either next season or the second time the same season you’ll try and change things that didn’t work to give your kids a better chance in certain situations.”
Martin had plenty to say about the Chargers’ ability to convert key first downs late in the game and the difficulty his team had in trying contain Andre Holmes and AJ Kegg. But ultimately, Martin said he was most disappointed with the fact his team had numerous chances to change the outcome, but they failed every time.
“For me, we had the ball twice in the fourth quarter in their territory and we had a one-point lead, and if we score we go up eight,” he said. “For me the game was up and down and up and we had two fourth quarter opportunities on offense to ice the game. And we take pride in closing things out and finishing our job.”
Instead Billy Kanitz scored on a 1-yard run with :36 seconds remaining to hand the Lakers their first league loss since 2004.
All-conference QB Brad Iciek said he and his teammates certainly learned a thing or two about passion and desire from that loss.
“I think on the plays they needed to make they made them on us, especially on third- and fourth-down and short. They wanted it a little more, they were a little more hungry than us, so we’ve got to be focused, be more prepared than they are and see what happens,” he said. “We know it’s do or die, it’s been that way for us since we lost to them before. We’ve just got to be ready to go, we know it’s one game at a time and we can’t wait to play them on Saturday.”
The Lakers had 462 total yards of offense and turned the ball over just once in the first meeting, but Martin said his team simply faltered inexcusably in the clutch.
“Give credit to Hillsdale. Every key defensive snap for Hillsdale they made the play and our offense didn’t and their kids stepped up and executed in key situations,” he said. “We tried to run in key situations, we tried to throw in key situations and whatever we tried did not work, so we’ve obviously got to look at what we did on third- and fourth-down and in the red zone and give our kids the best opportunity for success.”
Defensively, GVSU was able to force Hillsdale QB Troy Weatherhead into a pair of interceptions in October, but he still threw for 265 yards and the Lakers took some flak for the play of their secondary.
Current starting cornerback Matt Bakker was still a reserve the last time the teams met and Martin said his play has helped spur them on to much better efforts against the pass during the stretch-run.
“I certainly think we are playing better than we were last time, but we’ll find out next Saturday just how much better we are,” Martin said. “Since we’ve played Hillsdale we haven’t played a team (like them) with two First Team All-Conference wideouts, an all-conference quarterback, all-conference tight end and an all-conference offensive lineman, so it will be by far our biggest challenge to date on defense.”
Martin said Weatherhead is as calm and confident as any QB he’s seen in recent years and believe it or not, he told his defensive unit they need to play a little more like a certain group of women he knows.
“I hope we play as good and aggressively as our women’s soccer team does, because if we do we’ll be in great shape on Saturday,” he said about the 17-0-3 Lakers soccer team.
His team should benefit from a bye-week, as they got healthy and rested while the Chargers went on the road to Minnesota State-Mankato, where they came away with an overtime win.
“We pretty much just hung out, did some chores — I cleaned out my garage, it was pretty fun,” Martin said. “Got to the women’s soccer game (last Sunday) with my kids, we practiced a little bit, got a lot of treatment and our defense was thankfully practicing for Hillsdale Thursday and Friday because Hillsdale’s offense is a lot better than Mankato.”
Iciek said he’s excited about the re-match and he thinks the coaches have them amply prepared to make the necessary adjustments to beat the Chargers.
He said he’s not playing into the whole payback mantra, because it’s fuel enough that if they lose his career is over.
“Everybody keeps talking about revenge, I’m not a big revenge guy. I don’t know if the fact they beat us last time gives us a better chance to beat them this time — whoever plays better Saturday is going to win the game,” he said. “I don’t know if it helps us, it probably helps them because it gives them the confidence that they can go out and do it again. From our standpoint I’m sure our kids are pretty excited about another chance to play Hillsdale, but when you get down the final 16 teams you are excited anyways.”