November 18th, 2019 5:00pm
Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.
Or something like that?
Actually, in this case, rejoice because it’s over! You guys made it to the end of the regular season and no longer have to suffer through my bi-weekly columns covering the GLIAC!
Alas, dry up those tears (of joy) and power through this final reaction column before switching to postseason mode.
The final weekend of the regular season presented little drama as far as conference standings go, but Grand Valley State was playing for their playoff lives at home in a showdown with Wayne State --- the Lakers for whatever reason perhaps did not receive word of the importance of this game, because they forgot to show up in the second half.
Wayne State proved its prowess and established themselves as the second-best team in the GLIAC in 2019 with a convincing 31-17 win over the Lakers at Lubbers Stadium, a game in which the Warriors scored the last 17 points, including outscoring GVSU 14-0 in the second half. Watching this game from start to finish, you have to tip your cap to the Warriors for their complete execution of all three phases of the game – offensively, defensively and on special teams, the Warriors were the better team. Offensively the Warriors were balanced and extremely effective in the second half, defensively WSU compiled seven sacks and completely shut down the Laker offense in the fourth quarter. As for special teams, the individual display of speed and athleticism by Darece Roberson on his 96-yard kickoff return was a sight to behold, and one of several game-changing plays by the Warriors.
I know I ate the humble pie last week with how wrong I was about the Warriors after the beginning portion of the season, but this monstrous win over Grand Valley was just more fuel for the fire – Wayne State deserves all the credit they’re getting and the future is exceptionally bright and exciting in Detroit. Well done to Paul Winters and his staff for corralling this team after the 0-2 start and finishing the season on a five-game-win-streak and winners of eight of their last nine.
On the other side for the GV faithful, a lot of fans and supporters leave this game and this season with questions regarding the future of the program. I saw a lot of chatter online questioning Matt Mitchell and his staff, especially given the two consecutive losses to end the season.
Mitchell admitted in his postgame comments that the loss to Ferris State was tough to get over, and his guys didn’t come out, ‘in attack mode’ or aggressive enough, but given the stakes of this game, and a potential playoff birth on the line, it seems the Lakers should have been ready to go from the opening kickoff. Of course, I’m pointing out the obvious here, but regardless, GVSU’s season ends with disappointment and on the outside of the playoffs.
My response to the critics that call for head coaches’ jobs – and in this case the GV faithful wanting Mitchell gone, remember the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. I’m all for accountability, and this Laker team had too much talent not to make the postseason, but I believe Coach Mitchell and company will have them back sooner rather than later, and given what I know about him and how much his players respect him and the culture he’s built in Allendale, going a different direction would perhaps be a foolish move. I’ve said this time and time again, my least favorite part about this column is talking about coaches’ jobs – I was raised by a coach and I understand it comes with the territory, but I also have an understanding of what putting your livelihood in the hands of college athletes looks like – and no matter how hard you prepare and game plan, sometimes things don’t go your way – that’s the nature of athletics. Okay, rant over!
Onto the other three games commencing the regular season on the gridiron in the GLIAC – a surprising finish in Saginaw as the Davenport Panthers pull an upset of Saginaw Valley State and end the Cardinals season in disappointment at home with a 33-23 loss. Despite SVSU jumping out to the 14-0 lead, Davenport withstood the initial blow, and held the Cardinals scoreless in the second half while using a 17-0 fourth quarter surge to earn the win.
Davenport put on a clinic in how to score points without your offense on the field – a school-record 70-yard pick six by Robert Clanton and a 2-point-conversion attempt returned for a touchdown in the first half yielded nine points for the Panthers, while a Nate Couturier 43-yard punt return in the second half resulted in seven more points for Davenport. All told, DU scored 16 of its 33 points without the offense on the field. That’s not to take anything away from the Panther offensive attack, however, as DU came alive on offense in the fourth quarter to help seal the win. A nice exclamation point at the end of the season for Sparky McEwen’s squad who earns the first win over Saginaw Valley State in program history.
On the flip side, a season that started so promising for SVSU leaves quite the bitter taste in the mouths of Cardinal Nation. Hats off to Ryan Conklin for a solid career at quarterback, but I’m sure this is not the way he and his fellow seniors envisioned this season playing out, especially after the 4-1 start. As for first year head coach Ryan Brady, he and his staff definitely have something to build on in the offseason after the hot start, but I’m sure they will be looking to take a significant step forward in 2020. SVSU and Davenport both finish 3-5 in the GLIAC, while the Cards end with a losing record at 5-6 and the Panthers an even 5-5.
To the UP where Michigan Tech was in a similar boat – trying to end the year at the .500 mark and earn their third GLIAC win. The Huskies offense came alive in the fourth quarter to halt a potential Northwood comeback en route to the 34-21 win over the Timberwolves. Will Ark made his return in this one, and what a day he had - Ark completed 20 of 26 passes for 317 yards and two touchdowns, with both of those TD’s coming in the fourth quarter. MTU’s Jacob Wenzlick also had a huge day to cap a tremendous career – Wenzlick hauled in six receptions for 162 yards and two touchdowns to help lead the Huskie offense. The Huskies finish the season 5-5, 3-5 in the GLIAC and in a 3-way tie with SVSU and Davenport for fifth in the conference.
For Northwood, Dimitri Abro had a fantastic game defensively capping an incredible career for the Timberwolves – Abro tallied 15 tackles and a sack. Abro is a guy that gave his heart and soul to the program and should be extremely proud, as is the case with the other seniors in the program. The wins weren’t there, but as men, they fought week-in and week-out to put their best foot forward.
Big picture wise for NU, Saturday was an appropriate ending to a tumultuous season culminating with an abysmal 1-10 record. I want nothing but the best for my alma mater and pray things will turn around in Midland next year.
Last, and certainly not least – Ashland clinched third in the GLIAC with its 31-10 win at home over Northern Michigan. This was a game that was close at halftime with Ashland leading 14-10, but a dominant second half performance by AU ended any thoughts of an upset at Jack Miller Stadium. Ashland head coach Lee Owens said how proud he was of his senior class and how resilient they were this season having responded each and every time they were knocked down. Freshman running back Gei'vonni Washington capped off the best rushing season in AU history for a first-year player by gaining 139 yards on a career-high-tying 31 carries. Washington became the first Eagle runner to have eight straight 100-yard games since D.J. McCoy in 2010, and his 1,205 rushing yards in 2019 are the sixth-most for any Ashland runner all-time. The future is bright for this young man who seems destined to be a nightmare for GLIAC defenses in years to come.
As for Northern Michigan, nine straight losses to end the season after opening the year with a win, certainly a disappointing campaign for the Wildcats. It’s back to the drawing board in Marquette as they’ll look to turn things around for 2020.
Now that the regular season has come to a close, we turn our attention to the playoffs where the GLIAC will have just one representative in the postseason. On Sunday, Ferris State was announced as the No. 1 seed in Super Region Three resulting in a first-round bye for the Bulldogs and a second-round home game at Top Taggart Field. Ferris State will play the winner of Central Missouri and the University of Indianapolis.
The Super Region Three bracket of the NCAA DII playoffs is loaded with talented teams capable of making a deep run. It’s not an exaggeration to say seeds one through seven have a legitimate chance of advancing to the final four. Given Ferris State’s regular season dominance, they are one of the favorites, but Ouachita Baptist is also undefeated at 11-0, while traditional power Northwest Missouri State is 10-1 and playing its best football of the year after knocking off previously unbeaten Central Missouri 45-23 in the last week of the regular season. In any case, it’s sure to be an exciting playoff race!
Lastly, the moment we’ve all been waiting for – time to unveil my record in the regular season for picks…. Drum roll, please… After going 2-2 in the final weekend of the regular season, I finish the year at 42-17… I’ll take it!
Thanks for following along all year, and here’s to the postseason!