By Greg Johnson / The Grand Rapids Press
ALLENDALE — Grand Valley State advanced in the NCAA Division II playoffs, and it avenged a regular-season loss to Hillsdale College and reached a couple milestones along the way.
All in a day’s work.
The Lakers raced to a 37-0 lead en route to a 44-27 win against Hillsdale on Saturday in front of a school playoff-record crowd of 8,229 at Lubbers Stadium.
“We had a good game plan, the kids played hard and we ended it early, which was nice,” Grand Valley coach Chuck Martin said.
Grand Valley (11-1) will travel to Minnesota-Duluth (11-1) next Saturday in the Lakers’ ninth consecutive appearance in a national quarterfinal game.
Minnesota-Duluth, a 42-7 winner against Nebraska-Kearney, ousted Grand Valley 19-13 in double overtime a year ago at Lubbers Stadium on its way to a national championship.
“We’ll go, and we will not go down easy this year,” Martin said. “Certainly not as easy as we went down last year.”
Hillsdale, which beat Grand Valley 27-24 in an Oct. 10 regular-season game, saw the Lakers at a high level early. The Chargers trailed 37-0 at halftime and played most of the second half against Grand Valley’s reserves.
By halftime, the Chargers had two field-goal attempts blocked, fumbled the ball on a kick return and gave up an interception that set up a short touchdown drive.
“Good teams make you play a little sloppy and do things you are not used to doing,” Hillsdale coach Keith Otterbein said. “We ran into a pretty good football team today.”
As for the Grand Valley milestones, junior tailback Jimmy Berezik became the school’s all-time leading rusher on his second carry of the game. He ended up with 69 yards, slipping past Michael Tennessee (2000-04), which brings his total to 3,577 yards.
Senior wide receive/tailback Blake Smolen also got in on the milestone act. He rushed for 27 yards and became only the fifth player in NCAA history (all divisions) to eclipse the 2,000-yard mark for a career in rushing and receiving.
Grand Valley, which outgained Hillsdale 356-143 in the first half, started the game with a five-play scoring drive that P.T. Gates capped with a 52-yard touchdown run.
Senior quarterback Brad Iciek, who sat out the second half with the rest of the offensive starters, hit 11-of-17 passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns. Junior wide receive Ryan Bass caught two touchdown passes.
Hillsdale quarterback Troy Weatherhead, a junior from Comstock Park, accounted for most of Hillsdale’s offense. The Chargers’ first-team unit stayed in the game against Grand Valley State’s reserves, and Weatherhead finished 36-of-47 passing for 384 yards and three touchdowns.
He was 12-of-18 passing for 123 yards and one interception in the first half.
“We let them do what they like to do the first time we played them,” Martin said. “They score 37 points a game this year, and we had a goose egg on them at halftime. That’s pretty good.”
Linebacker Justin Victor led the Grand Valley defense with eight tackles. Defensive tackle Danny Richard and defensive end Nick Lawrence were credited with the blocked field-goal attempts.
Cornerback Enrique Shaw collected an interception, and linebacker Ricky Shorkey forced one fumble
Injuries in the defensive backfield continue to be a problem for the Lakers. Safety Zach Breen is lost for the season with a knee injury.
Martin said Grand Valley State might have to activate a redshirt player for help