The Cardinals fell to the Grand Valley State University Lakers by a slim 31-28 margin on Saturday, Oct. 27, in the annual Battle of the Valleys matchup.
The Cardinals fall to 6-3 overall and 3-3 in GLIAC play, while Grand Valley advances to 8-1 and 5-1.
With the loss, the Cardinals likely dropped out of playoff contention after finding themselves ranked tenth in their region last week for the NCAA Division II tournament.
The Laker defense kept the Cardinals out of the end zone until the fourth quarter when the Cardinals outscored the Lakers 22-7 in their comeback attempt.
Junior quarterback Ryan Conklin praised the fourth quarter grit that has been present all season for the Cardinals.
“The guys in that locker room, they don’t give up,” Conklin said. “We’ve been behind in many games this year, and we’ve come back and won a lot of them.”
The late scoring frenzy was not enough this time against the Lakers, who led for all four quarters of the contest.
The Lakers were first to light the scoreboard in the contest, scoring on an 83-yard Nate Dodson punt return.
They quickly doubled their lead to 14-0 on the very next drive, capitalizing on a two-yard Cole Kotopka quarterback keep.
Kotopka was filling in for starting quarterback Bart Williams, who suffered a shoulder injury in a 19-14 win over Davenport last Saturday.
The Cardinal offense then moved the ball down the field, positioning freshman Connor Luksic for a 26-yard field goal, making the score 14-3 in favor of Grand Valley.
On the ensuing Laker drive, they responded with a field goal of their own, as J.J McGrath split the uprights from 24 yards out, bringing the Laker lead back to 14, the score being 17-3 going into the half.
The Cardinals started their second half off with the ball, putting together an 11-play, 62yard drive that was punctuated by another Luksic field goal, this one from 30 yards away.
On the first Laker possession of the second half, junior linebacker Austin Egler picked off a Kotopka pass, giving the Cardinal offense favorable field position at the GV 42-yard line.
The Laker defense claimed an interception of their own, this one being taken away by Thad Little. That led to a 12-play, 90-yard drive for the Laker offense, which concluded on a oneyard Kotopka rushing touchdown, his second of the day, giving them a 24-6 lead late in the third quarter. The Cardinals cut into the Laker margin after constructing an eight-play, 75-yard drive, taking only 2:35 off the clock. The drive was completed on a one-yard dash from sophomore running back Nate McCrary. That gave Saginaw Valley their first touchdown of the day, and a more manageable margin of 24-13.
The Lakers moved the ball into field goal position, but failed to capitalize on a boot from 22 yards away. The Cardinal offense got back to work quickly, scoring after a 12-play, 65-yard march, which led to their second touchdown of the quarter and game, earned on a three-yard pass connection from Conklin to sophomore wide receiver Chad Gailliard. Conklin rushed for the following two-point conversion, bringing the Cardinals within a field goal of the Lakers at 24-21.
The Lakers found the end zone with just over five minutes left in the game, going up 31-21 on a 16-yard rushing touchdown from Laker running back Jack Provencher.
With just over a minute and a half to go in the game, McCrary rushed one yard to the end zone for his second score of the day, closing the gap to three again, 31-28. McCrary finished the day with 94 yards and two rushing touchdowns.
After an onside kick was recovered by the Cardinals, it was taken away due to an illegal procedure penalty on the Cardinals. On the next onside attempt, the Lakers recovered. Only one first down was needed in order for the game to expire, which the Lakers did not reach. They were forced to punt with 1:16 remaining as a quick three-and-out was forced.
The Cardinals started their final drive on their own 22-yard line. With no timeouts remaining, they ran their hurry-up offense, but simply did not have enough time as Conklin was forced to throw a prayer to the end zone, which was intercepted to seal the game. Conklin had 209 passing yards and a touchdown in the game.
Saginaw Valley head coach Jim Collins noted the difference in the second half.
“The way we ran the football in the second half and the explosive plays in the passing game were huge,” Collins said. “Defensively, I thought we played about the same first half to second half. We did a pretty good job of keeping them in check. But offensively, it was those big plays in the second half that got us back in the game.”
The Cardinals travel to Northwood on Saturday, Nov. 3, to take on the Huskies in the annual Axe Bowl game. Football