The SVSU football team fended off a determined comeback attempt from Tiffin on Saturday, Oct. 28, and ultimately slayed the Dragons for a 14-9 victory on Senior Day.
Sophomore running back Tommy Scott Jr. carried the ball 22 times for 129 yards, and redshirt freshman receiver Chad Gailliard had four catches for 115 yards and a touchdown to pace the Cardinal offense.
“That was huge,” head coach Jim Collins said. “For our guys to rise to the occasion like they did (Saturday) was outstanding.”
After the teams traded punts for much of the first quarter, Tiffin appeared to be on its way to breaking the scoreless tie. However, the Dragons missed a 26-yard field goal attempt to keep the game scoreless.
SVSU wasted no time capitalizing on the Dragon miscue, as they quickly moved into Tiffin territory. On a first-and-10 from the Tiffin 47-yard line, redshirt sophomore quarterback Ryan Conklin connected with Gailliard for a touchdown pass to put the Cardinals on top 7-0.
“Our passing game was pretty good (Saturday),” Gailliard said. “We stalled out a couple times, but overall, we had a pretty good performance.”
An uneventful second quarter sent the teams to the locker room with SVSU up 7-0.
The defensive battle continued on Tiffin’s opening drive of the second half, when Dragon quarterback Nick Watson was intercepted by defensive back Ryan Verhelst, who returned the pick 17 yards to the Tiffin 29, setting up the Cardinal offense with great field position.
“Tiffin runs good offense and they run good concepts,” Verhelst said. “As a defense, we read them very well, and we were all in position, and I was able to make a few plays on the ball.”
Linebacker Michael Alexander totaled 17 tackles for SVSU, while Justin Whitted and Verhelst each added nine.
Following the turnover, Conklin connected with receiver Marcus Edmondson at the Tiffin 5-yard line to set SVSU up with a first-and-goal. Two plays later, Conklin found the end zone on a five-yard scamper, making it 14-0 Cardinals early in the third quarter.
The Tiffin offense finally showed some life on its next possession, marching deep into SVSU territory. But a false start penalty inside the SVSU five-yard line ultimately forced a Dragon field goal attempt. Kicker Joseph Metcalf’s 24-yard attempt split the uprights and put Tiffin on the scoreboard, 14-3.
SVSU missed a field goal on its next possession, and Tiffin refused to go away from there.
On the Dragons’ next possession, Watson connected with receiver Tyler Denton on a four-yard touchdown pass, bringing Tiffin within five after a failed two-point conversion, 14-9.
Following a Cardinal punt, the Dragons, looking for a comeback win, quickly moved into SVSU territory. But Verhelst picked off his second pass of the game to appear to seal the win for SVSU.
“I saw our DBs play as well as I’ve seen them play in a long time,” Collins said. “We were breaking up passes, hitting hard and when somebody caught the football, we had somebody right there.”
However, Scott fumbled on the very next play to give the ball right back to Tiffin with two minutes left in the game.
After Tiffin drove all the way to the Cardinal 21-yard line, SVSU’s Adam Slating sacked Watson, pinning the Dragons back. On a fourth-and-22 from the SVSU 33-yard line, Watson’s long heave sailed out of the end zone, sealing the win for SVSU as it improved to 5-4 on the season.
Next week, the Cardinals travel to Midland for a date with Northwood in the annual Axe Bowl game. Northwood also enters the contest at 5-4. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.