2023 GLIAC Football

GLIAC's Grand Valley State Travels To Harding For Spot In National Semis

GLIAC's Grand Valley State Travels To Harding For Spot In National Semis

After a pair of nail-biting wins at home, GVSU football will hit the road for the first time in the playoffs, where a win would put them into the Semis.

Nov 30, 2023 by Ron Balaskovitz
GLIAC's Grand Valley State Travels To Harding For Spot In National Semis

After a pair of nail-biting wins at home, the Grand Valley State Lakers will hit the road for the first time in the playoffs, where a win would put them into the Division II national semifinals.

Awaiting the Lakers is top-seed Harding, who like the Lakers had to sweat out a narrow win at home last week to secure its place in the regional final.

GVSU Takes Down Pittsburgh State 24-21 win

GVSU was out-played for long stretches of last weekend’s game against Pittsburg State, getting outgained by over 100 yards in the game, but took advantage of four PSU turnovers to stay within striking distance, then used some late-game heroics to keep their dreams of a fifth national title alive.

The Lakers trailed 21-14 deep into the fourth quarter but rallied thanks to the defense, and offense that found life when it mattered most. A 31-yard field goal with five minutes to play trimmed the Gorillas' lead to four, then with just over three minutes to go, the Lakers embarked on the biggest drive of the season, going 78 yards in 10 plays, capped off by Avery Moore running in from five yards out for what proved to be the game-winning score.

The game was uncharacteristic of the Lakers, who for the majority of the 2023 season have been high-scoring and efficient, but just 259 yards of offense and six punts required every stop they could get from the defense, which picked off three passes despite PSU hitting on over 60 percent of its throws, including both touchdowns. Even in Grand Valley’s lone loss to Colorado School of Mines earlier this year, the Lakers did not struggle like that.

But the only number that mattered was up on the scoreboard, and the 24-21 win pushed them into Saturday’s regional final against an undefeated Harding Bisons team, who needed a huge play on special teams inside the final minute to ensure its spot against GVSU.

Harding Defeats Central Missouri In Close 35-34 Win

The Bison took the lead in the second quarter and never trailed again, and appeared to have the game in hand, going up 35-21 with just under seven minutes to play, when Central Missouri rallied. An 87-yard strike capped a 95-yard drive to pull within a score, then Central appeared set to tie the game on a 10-play, 69-yard drive that was capped with a touchdown with 22 seconds left, only to see Harding burst through the line and blocked the extra point, then recover the onside kick to thwart the comeback.

That win was the first close game the Bison had played all season, winning their previous 11 games in blowout fashion. Their closest win during the regular season was a 27-16 win over No. 20 Henderson State, while their other 10 wins before the playoffs were all by 31 points or more. For the season, the Bison have outscored its opponents by a ridiculous 50.3 to 11.3 margin, boasting the top offense and defense in the Great American Conference.

The caveat to that, is it was a down year for the GAC, and prior to the win over Central Missouri, Henderson State was the only ranked or playoff team the Bison played all season, while over half of GVSU’s schedule has come against ranked opponents.

The key for Harding this season has been a borderline unstoppable rushing attack, one that through 12 games has amassed 5,023 yards. Not a misprint. Over 5,000 yards on the season, and an average of nearly 420 yards per game, while scoring an astounding 67 touchdowns on the ground. The rushing attack was so good, that the Bison threw just 48 passes on the season, but when forced to pass, averaged 28 yards per completion, and had eight of their 21 pass attempts go for touchdowns.

As you might expect with a team that averages over 400 yards per game, there are any number of runners who could get the call, but the star has been Blake Delacruz, who paced the team with 1,071 yards, averaging over six yards per carry, and finding paydirt 19 times. Braden Jay is a major threat, gaining 861 yards this season on just 64 carries, good for 13.5 yards per carry to go with eight scores of his own, while Cole Keylon ranked up 12 touchdowns and over 500 yards.

That trio makes up for less than half of the team’s 5,000 yards, with another three runners who combined for over 1,300 yards, and six more who had over 100 yards on the season. There aren’t many offenses that will boast 12 quality ball carriers.

However, the greatest strength of Harding is also the strength of GVSU’s defense, which has held opposing rushers to just 2.1 yards per carry this season, and 718 total yards on the ground. Something will have to give when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.

Defensively, Harding was very strong against both the run and the pass, giving up a mere 75 yards per game on the ground, and just 158 yards through the air while picking off 19 passes. Clark Griffin leads the team with 74 total tackles, while Dre Hall leads a potent pass rush with 8.5 sacks, leading a unit that has boasted 28 total sacks this season.

On paper, this seems like a game where ball control will be key, and picking the right spots to go to the air will be few and far between.

The winner of Saturday’s game will punch its spot in the national semifinals, where the teams will be re-seeded based on who advances, with the winner likely to garner the No. 1 or No. 2 seed and a home game, as the opposite side of the bracket features the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds squaring off in their respective games.

Saturday’s game also marks the first-ever meeting between the Lakers and Bison, and the first time the Lakers have ever faced a team from the GAC.