Cardinals shut out Walsh, move to 2-0

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The SVSU football team’s 2017 home opener featured a great deal of offense, a dominating defense and a multitude of turnovers on both sides en route to a 28-0 Cardinal win in front of nearly 8,000 fans at Wickes Stadium.

SVSU is now 2-0 heading into GLIAC play.

The SVSU offensive attack exploded for 525 yards, including nearly 300 through the air from sophomore quarterback Ryan Conklin. Despite being without last week’s breakout performer Tommy Scott (132 yards and two touchdowns), who was withheld from the game due to a paperwork snafu, running backs Nate Moore contributed 126 yards and 68 yards, respectively, on the ground.

Defensively, the Cardinals stifled the Walsh offense, allowing only 129 yards for the game and nine Cavalier punts.

“Our coaching staff gave us a great game plan this week,” defensive back Dillon Dixon said. “We were really focused at practice all week, and the depth of our team truly showed today. We had a lot of young players stepping up. It was a pretty good performance.”

Following a Walsh punt, SVSU’s opening drive lasted only two plays, as Moore fumbled and gave the ball right back to Walsh on its own 48. It was the first of four fumbles the Cardinals would lose on the day.

“Offensively, we played really well with the exception of five plays,” head coach Jim Collins said. “The four fumbles, and then we didn’t make a fourth-and-one that we’ve got to be able to make. At the end of the day, when you can turn the ball over that many times and still win the football game the way we did, that’s a sign of a good team.”

However, Walsh quickly went three-and-out to hand the ball back to the Cardinal offense. On a third and six, Conklin found receiver Chad Gailliard for 30 yards to move into Walsh territory. A few plays later, Conklin evaded pressure coming from the Cavalier defensive line to find Frank Heimkreiter inside the Walsh 10-yard line. However, SVSU’s drive again ended in a turnover, as running back Myrick El fumbled to give the ball back to the Cavaliers.

The turnovers continued when, on a second-and-eight, Walsh starting quarterback Nick Gassman aired out a long pass intended for receiver Lee Hurst II that was juggled and ultimately intercepted by SVSU’s Donnell Alexander on an outstanding play that gave the Cardinals the ball back.

Shortly after the first quarter came an end, yet another Cardinal fumble, this one by Conklin, stalled another SVSU drive.

After the teams traded a handful of punts, SVSU finally capped off a scoring drive as Conklin connected with Damaris Woods for 39 yards to bring the ball inside the Walsh two-yard line. On the very next play, freshman Nate McCrary scored his first career touchdown to put SVSU on the board. Alex Kenrick’s extra point made it 7-0 SVSU with 4:20 left in the half.

Another Cavalier punt gave SVSU the ball on its own 25 with about two minutes left in the second half. The Cardinal offense was able to drive deep into Walsh territory, and with one second left in the half, Conklin connected with a wide-open Alfonso Vultaggio in the corner of the end zone for a second- straight SVSU score. The extra point made it 14-0 as the game went to halftime.

Conklin finished the day 17 for 26 and threw for two touchdowns. Vultaggio led the receiving attack with five catches and a touchdown, while Gailliard had three catches for 124 yards and a touchdown.

“Our offensive line was dominant up front today,” Conklin said. “They were pushing guys around and protecting me when we were throwing in third-down situations. They did a great job.”

The teams traded punts to begin the second half, but a fourth SVSU fumble once again stalled a Cardinal drive that had reached Walsh territory.

After another Walsh punt, Conklin found Gailliard for an 80-yard touchdown pass on the drive’s first play to extend the SVSU lead. The extra point made it 21-0 in favor of the home side.

“We’ve got some fast guys that can get behind people, and they’re catching the ball and making big plays and getting in the end zone, and that’s what we need out of them,” Conklin said.

Following a Walsh punt, SVSU extended its lead once again on a two-yard McCrary touchdown. Following Kenrick’s extra point, it was 28-0 in favor of the Cardinals.

That score held for the rest of the game as SVSU’s Jared Stephens intercepted Walsh’s backup quarterback Mitchell Ault with just over a minute left in the game. SVSU milked the rest of the clock, and the game came to an end.

Defensively, Dixon and linebacker Bryce Anderson each led the team with seven tackles a piece. Linebackers Austin Egler and Michael Alexander each added five.

“I thought our defense dominated today in all phases,” Collins said. “We did a great job on third down defensively, and our kicking game was again very solid.”

Next week, SVSU heads to Detroit to take on Wayne State, which comes in at 1-1 following a win over Walsh in week one and a 31-28 loss against No. 18 Indianapolis on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.