In typical Laker fashion, however, Grand Valley State turned it on when they needed to and kicked off their season with a bang.
The Lakers took the opening kickoff and marched methodically down the field to start the game, capping it off with an Andrew Lorman wide-open touchdown catch from Brad Iciek up the middle of the field. The Buffaloes responded with a touchdown of their own to tie the game on the following series.
From there, things got sloppy for both squads. West Texas A&M was stopped on a fake field goal attempt later in the first quarter at the four yard line, raising questions as to why they would pass up an easy three points. They were redeemed of that question a couple plays later though, as a bad snap got past Iciek and into the endzone, where Iciek fell on it for a safety to put the Buffaloes up 9-7.
Both team's offenses would sputter for the rest of the first half until Grand Valley State broke through with a long touchdown pass to a wide-open Blake Smolen down the left sideline as broken coverage led to an easy touchdown with only seven seconds left in the first half. The Lakers went in to halftime up 14-9, and wouldn't look back.
Grand Valley State came out energized in the second half, with a defense that started flying around and forcing mistakes. After a big pass play by West Texas A&M to begin the second half, a Justin Victor pressure on Taylor Harris forced a floating pass down the field which Jacob McGuckin picked off to give the ball back to the Lakers early in the third quarter.
More broken coverage by the Buffaloes led to a 33 yard pass to Tony Carreri down the right sideline, moving the ball down to the WTAM five yard line, and GVSU completed the drive on the next play with an Iciek touchdown run to put the Lakers up 21-9.
On the following drive for WTAM, the Laker defense was even more impressive, forcing three straight negative-yardage plays including two straight sacks, and forced a punt to the dangerous P.T. Gates, who returned it 16 yards and set the Lakers up with great field position to begin their next drive.
Gates wasn't done yet though, ripping off runs of 35 yards and two yards down to the Buffalo two yard line, setting up a touchdown pass on a fade route to the corner for Mike Koster, seeing his first game action since 2007, putting Grand Valley State up 28-9.
The Lakers kept the pressure on for WTAM's next drive, as the Buffaloes were forced to attempt a field goal...which went terribly wrong. After a botched snap, the holder took off with the ball, and then tried to lateral to the kicker trailing. The lateral, however, went over the kicker's head, and Grand Valley State's Luther Ware scooped it up and went 72 yards for the touchdown to push the Laker lead to 34-9, as Justin Trumble's extra point was blocked.
West Texas A&M answered with a touchdown on the following drive, but it was too little too late for the Buffaloes. GVSU used an efficient offense in the fourth quarter to run the clock down, kicking a late field goal and allowing a late WTAM touchdown with the second string on the field.
It was the first time since their series with Cal-Davis that GVSU faced a highly ranked non-conference opponent, and the 37-23 victory for the Lakers will go a long way in hopefully securing a high seed in the NCAA Division II playoffs at the end of the year, assuming WTAM continues their great success en route to a one or two-loss season.
Iciek finished the game 17-for-25 for 216 yards and three touchdowns, one each to Koster, Smolen, and Lorman. Koster was the leading receiver for Grand Valley, catching seven passes for 68 yards and his score. Smolen had three catches for 64 yards and a touchdown. James Berezik led the way on the ground, with 105 yards on 19 carries, and Gates added 62 yards on eight carries. On defense, Zach Breen led the way with nine tackles and one pass break-up, while Brad Howard had six tackles, two for loss, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. McGuckin had six tackles in addition to his interception, and Danny Richard had three tackles, one for loss, with 1.5 total sacks.
For West Texas A&M, new quarterback Taylor Harris went 34-for-46 for 332 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. Kelvin Thompson filling in for pre-season LSC Offensive Player of the Year Keithon Flemming had 54 yards on 10 rushing attempts, and Tyson Williams led the receiving corps with eight catches for 92 yards and a touchdown. Anthony Scott was the leading tackler for the Buffaloes with 11 total tackles and one forced fumble, while Eugene Sims had five tackles, one for loss, and got credit with the safety.
Grand Valley State will kick off GLIAC play next week at Key Stadium in Indianapolis when they take on a Greyhounds squad that defeated Kentucky Wesleyan in their season opener.