While the first full week of the NCAA Division II season featured a number of matchups between ranked teams, this week’s #11 Hillsdale College at #1 Grand Valley State contest is the only game pitting Top 25 teams against one another.
Hillsdale is coming off a 10-3 season and the school’s first ever d2 playoff berth and first ever d2 playoff victory, a 27-24 overtime win at Minnesota State Mankato. The Chargers’ run ended on the very field where this one will take place in the form of a 42-27 Grand Valley victory. The Lakers would add two more wins to that string and find themselves in Florence, AL for the D2 championship game. They would come up just a bit short falling to Northwest Missouri State.
Beside the Hillsdale playoff run, something else pretty monumental happened along the way that Charger fans will remember for a long time. Grand Valley brought its 48 game regular season unbeaten streak into Muddy Waters Stadium for Hillsdale’s homecoming, only to fall 27-24 to the Chargers.
A season later finds both clubs looking to establish themselves as the front runner on week 1 of conference action. Grand Valley was in the national spotlight last week as well, beating #8 West Texas A&M before a national TV audience 34-31 in comeback fashion. Hillsdale and GLIAC foe Ferris State hooked up on Friday night for a nonconference game since the schedule rotation prevented them from meeting this year in league play. Hillsdale won 35-17.
Grand Valley opened the season at #2 in the polls, but when the defending champs and then #1 Northwest Missouri lost to Texas A&M Kingsville, the Lakers slid into the top spot for the 80th week since 2001.
Hillsdale will be looking to make this a quick stay at the top for the Lakers and has its sights on another long Grand Valley streak. GVSU has won 43 straight regular season games at Lubbers Stadium, dating back to 2004. Hillsdale last won in Allendale in 1993.
Charger quarterback Troy Weatherhead had a near perfect opening night, completing 22 of 26 passes for 295 yards and 3 touchdowns. Flanker Mike Blanchard was all over the place throwing a 23 yard pass, rushed for 25 yards, and caught 9 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown. Weatherhead also found Hillsdale WR Andre Holmes 10 times for 132 yards and a touchdown. In his first career start, sophomore running back Joe Glendening rushed 17 times for 88 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Charger offensive line didn’t miss a beat after losing left tackle Jared Veldheer to the Oakland Raiders in the 3rd round of the NFL draft. Behind center Phil Doerfler, the Charger line opened all the holes the team needed and gave Weatherhead all night to complete nearly 85% of his passes.
Defensively Hillsdale seemed to get better as the night went on against Ferris. Despite the Bulldog’s ability to move the ball in the first half, the Charger “bend don’t break” defense made big plays with its backs against the wall. In his Charger debut, DB Ben Karaba halted a Ferris drive with an interception in the endzone and deflected another Bulldog pass in the endzone. After Hillsdale did some halftime adjustments, Ferris would not record another first down until midway through the 4th quarter.
Grand Valley had to come from behind to beat the #8 Buffaloes and in the process, claimed two of the three GLIAC Player of the Week awards. Senior Eastern Michigan transfer QB Kyle McMahon ran 17 times for 61 yards and completed 17 of 32 passes for 295 yards. He ran for one touchdown and threw for a pair. Freshman linebacker Luther Ware picked off two passes and had 6 tackles to garner league defensive player of the week honors.
If the cliché is indeed true that teams improve the most between games 1 and 2 then this should be quite the brawl on Saturday night. Kickoff is at 7:00 PM and tickets are available via gvsulakers.com. Can’t make it to the game? Catch the live free webcast on GVSN.