NCAA Division-II Football Playoffs
No. 12 Grand Valley State Lakers (11-0)
No. 4 Colorado State-Pueblo ThunderWolves (11-0)
How They Got Here:
The Grand Valley State Lakers entered the NCAA Division-II football playoffs as an at-large bid after finishing third in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The Lakers were 8-2 in the regular season losing only to Ferris State and Ashland, the co-winners of the conference. Grand Valley rode a powerful offense which scored at least 24-points in every game and had as many as 65 in one contest.
The Lakers entered as the No. 6 team in their bracket, but they have been making a lot of noise so far. Their road through the playoffs has been through the two teams that beat them in the regular season and they have made the most of those opportunities.
In their first round contest they took on No. 3 ranked Ashland. In their regular season matchup, the Eagles won easily 45-31. That was not going to be the result here. The Lakers fell behind 7-0 early, then scored three straight touchdowns to take a 21-7 lead. The first of Marty Carter’s two touchdowns made the score 14-7, and Nick Dodson caught a two-yard pass from Bart Williams to extend the lead to 14. The two teams went to half with Grand Valley leading 28-14, and the lead was extended when the Lakers got a 23-yard field goal from Joel Schipper to start the third quarter. The Eagles would cut that deficit to 10, but Carter’s second TD run followed by a 12-yard score by Ollie Ajami closed the door on the comeback, and Grand Valley State won 45-28.
Kirk Spencer rushed for 115-yards and a touchdown while Carter added 103-yards on the ground and 2 TDs. Williams passed for 231-yards and 2 TDs and Matt Williams made 5-catches for 116-yards. Matt Judon had two sacks.
No. 2 ranked Ferris State was the Lakers Round 2 opponent. The Bulldogs had absolutely dominated the regular season affair, crushing GVSU 61-24 but, like Ashland, there was going to be a different result here as well. The Lakers came out on fire, scoring on their first drive of the game on a nine-yard pass from Williams to Spencer to make it 7-0. This was a back-and-forth affair that saw big plays make the game even more exciting. With the score tied at 7, Williams found Matt Williams for a 66-yard touchdown. Williams later connected with Urston Smith for a 30-yard touchdown after Ferris State had taken the lead on a 35-yard pass play.
The first half ended with Grand Valley leading 24-20, but the Bulldogs would retake the lead with a 23-yard touchdown from Antonio Agurs that made the score 27-24. Carter’s 11-yard touchdown run put GVSU back on top, but Ferris State got an 11-yard touchdown reception from Jamel Lockett to take the lead right back. Williams pass to M. Williams gave the Lakers the 38-34 lead, and from there it was time for their defense to come up big. Starting from their own four-yard line the Bulldogs moved to their own 47, but on fourth and 8 Tre Walton knocked down a potential first down play to clinch the victory.
Williams had a big day passing, completing 20 or 34 passes for 334-yards and 4-touchdowns. Matt Williams had 5-receptions for 126-yards and 2 scores, and Smith had 4-catches for 108-yards and a TD. The defense was led by David Talley, who had 15-tackles and an interception.
The Colorado State-Pueblo ThunderWolves lost their second game of the season, then swept the next nine regular season contests to win the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. The defending National Champions seemed to be highly motivated following the loss, winning 20-10 in their next game, then running off a seven-week span where they scored at least 42-points in every game.
In the first round of the NCAA Division-II playoffs, the ThunderWolves took on No. 13 ranked Indianapolis. It was just 3-0 after the first quarter, but 21 second quarter points put the ThunderWolves on top 24-7 heading into the half. Bernard McDondle had scoring plays of 11-, 37- and 8-yards in the second frame. The second half was a tight defensive battle. Indianapolis added a late touchdown but fell 27-14. McDondle finished with 187-yards on 28-carries. Brandon Payer led CSUP with 11-tackles and an interception.
Next up was Midwestern State. A 48-yard touchdown pass from AJ Thompson to Kieren Duncan got the scoring going for Colorado State-Pueblo just 3:17 into the game. McDondle’s 10-yard touchdown run extended the lead to 14, and two Greg O’Donnell field goals made in 20-0 ThunderWolves with a little over 25 minutes left in the game. Midwestern State battled back with two quick scores to cut the deficit to 10. O’Donnell added another field goal before Midwestern State got a touchdown run from Dante Taylor to cut the lead to six. O’Donnell’s 45-yard field goal with a little under four minutes clinched the win as the ThunderWolves won 26-17.
Keys Players to Watch:
Bart Williams is having an amazing season for Grand Valley State. The sophomore has thrown for 3,690-yards and 41-touchdowns. His touchdown passing numbers lead Division-II. Williams is incredibly poised and is very difficult to defend against. He will force throws at times, tossing 17 interceptions in 13-games. At this point in the season he cannot afford to make mistakes like this.
Kirk Spencer is a beast to try to stop. The senior has rushed for 1,222-yards and 12-scores. He is quick through the hole and at 5-11 200 pounds he has great speed.
Matt Williams is Bart Williams favorite target and with good reason. The junior has good size at 6-2 195, and great speed. He has 60-catches for 1,089-yards and 15-touchdowns.
Matt Judon has 20-sacks this season and is absolutely impossible to completely contain. The offensive line for Colorado State is going to have to be at their best to keep him from disrupting their offense.
The combination of brothers Cameron and Bernard McDondle is a force that no team has been able to figure out yet. Senior Cameron has 2,129-yards rushing, second in Division-II. His 24-touchdowns scored is also second. Younger brother Bernard has rushed for 1,431-yards and 17 TDs. Obviously trying to stop these two has to be the first priority for the Lakers defense.
On defense Morgan Fox is a relentless pass rusher who finds ways to get to the quarterback. The senior has 16-sacks and will force teams to use at least two if not three blockers to try to contain him.
Outlook: This is one of those fun matchups of a team that is more pass oriented against one that runs the ball exceptionally well. This should be a fun contest to watch for sure. Hall of Fame Coach John Madden once said that you go with the Champs until someone beats them, so take the Colorado State-Pueblo ThunderWolves to win, 35-24.
By Robert Pannier