Cardinals end seven-year drought against rivals with 55-52 win

Junior quarterback Jonathon Jennings and wideout Jeff Janis have connected for a lot of big passes over the last two seasons, but none as big as the one that ended SVSU’s seven-year losing streak to Grand Valley.

Down by three points in the waning seconds of Saturday’s game, Jennings stepped up and fired the ball from the 32-yard line into the corner of the end zone, where Janis rose above his defender and clinched a 55-52 win over Grand Valley with the biggest catch of his career.

“I couldn’t really see the safety and but I knew where the corner was, and I knew that it was a good ball. I just made a play on it and kept my feet in bounds,” Janis said. “I’m speechless.”

Speechless was a word that could have been used to describe the packed Wickes Stadium just a minute beforehand. With 1:06 remaining in the game, Jennings and the Cardinals started the final drive at their own five-yard line with no timeouts, and were forced to go 95 yards for the win.

“We looked pretty well oiled in that situation, and it was great to see,” said head coach Jim Collins. “The coaches, the fans, the players, we all got our money’s worth.”

The Cardinals have found themselves in similar situations earlier this season against Valdosta State and Ferris State. Janis said that practicing the two-minute drill in practice is largely responsibly for the team’s poise under pressure.

“When you do that every day you just get used to it, so you’re not feeling any pressure,” he said.

With the win, the Cardinals round out the regular season at 8-3 (7-3 GLIAC) and a share of the GLIAC North division title. Grand Valley finishes with the same record, and the two teams will share the division title along with Michigan Tech and Hillsdale.

Ashland (11-0, 10-0 GLIAC) wins the GLIAC overall.

Coming into the game, Grand Valley was ranked eighth in Super Region No. 4, while SVSU was ranked tenth. The top six teams qualify for the NCAA playoffs, but with none of the current top six teams falling in the final weekend of play, it will be unlikely that either team will see the postseason.

The Cardinals came out on fire against the Lakers to start the game, scoring 28 straight points and taking a 35-7 lead into halftime.

But then came the meltdown: The Lakers outscored SVSU 45-20 in the second half, with sophomore quarterback Isiah Grimes tossing four touchdown passes.

“In the first half everything went our way. I don’t remember too many bad plays in that first half on either side of the ball,” Collins said. “That game had a different tone to it in the second half.

“There were times on the sideline where you could see the dejection and disappointment that we weren’t able to keep them out of the end zone, but you never saw a lack of hope.”

Led by Jennings, who threw for 360 yards and three touchdowns, and senior running back Tim Hogue, who rushed for 175 yards, the Cardinals held onto their lead until a little more than halfway through the fourth quarter.

GVSU’s sophomore running back Michael Ratay scored on a 11-yard touchdown run with 6:07 remaining to put the Lakers up 52-48, their first lead of the game.

After the offense punted on the next drive, the defense made its biggest play of the game, forcing the Lakers to punt with just over a minute remaining.

“After all the points we gave up in the second half, that was the biggest stop of the game for us,” said senior linebacker Grant Caserta. “We didn’t quit, we got our offense the ball back and we got the job done.”

The punt was downed at the five-yard line, and with 1:06 remaining and no timeouts, Jennings went to work.

First was a 16-yard pass to Hogue, then back-to-back passes to junior wide receiver Mark Thrash for 37 yards and 10 yards.

And then the pass to Janis.

“I’ve never been a part of anything like that before,” Caserta said. “That’s probably the most excited I’ve ever been in my entire life. I looked up in the stands and everyone was going nuts.

“It was something I’ll never forget.”

Even with a playoff berth doubtful, Collins said he counts this win among the best in his tenure at SVSU.

“We’ve had some big ones in this program and a lot of memorable moments in my five years, but we had yet to beat our cross-state rival,” he said. “The way it happened, to come from behind on a last-minute drive sure made it even better.”

The Cardinals will wait for Sunday’s 4 p.m. selection show to see whether their season will continue with a playoff berth.

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