Tradition • Character • Service

Tradition • Character • Service

Friday, November 20, 2009 Tony Nicolette's GLIAC Column Columnists Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference

November 17th, 2009 
Excerpts from Tony's column: (Read the piece in its entirety.)

It was a "good news, bad news" result for the GLIAC in the first round of the 2009 Playoffs as we sent two teams off to battle, and only one returned with a victory. The fact that we got three teams into the post-season (making up half of the SuperRegion 3 field) is still a great accomplishment, but being able to have those same three teams chew up four of the regional semi-final spots would have REALLY been cool. Let's hope we make it happen next year.

Saturday, November 21

"The Rematch"

#6 Hillsdale (10-2) at #2 Grand Valley (10-1)

As most D2 fans know (and have likely discussed ad nauseum), the Chargers put a stop to Grand Valley's 48-game regular-season win streak back on October 10. It was certainly the biggest win of the last 20 years for the Hillsdale program, and it started the Chargers on their current six-game cruise into this weekend's Regional Semi-Final.

Despite smarting a bit from the loss (of course), the Lakers have since been rather dialed-in as well having knocked off four straight opponents with winning records - and typically doing so in impressive fashion. Both clubs have been terrific over the last month or so, making the fact that they get to play each other again all the more exciting.

Playoff rematches of a regular season game are nothing new for Grand Valley. Saturday's tilt will mark the sixth time in the last nine seasons that the Lakers have played a GLIAC foe during the playoffs that they faced during the regular season. Much like their meeting six weeks ago, Hillsdale will be faced with stopping a streak as the Lakers have won all five of the previous occurrences.
Just like the first time around, there are several match-ups to watch. Hillsdale brings their GLIAC-best scoring offense in to face GV's GLIAC-best scoring defense. The Chargers were second in the league in total offense, GV was tops in total defense. Hillsdale was the best in the league at converting on third down, and the Lakers were unsurpassed at stopping opponents on third down. With all of that said, I really think the most important match-ups of this game will take place in the trenches as each boasts outstanding play from both of their offensive and defensive lines. Whichever club does a better job controlling things with their "big-uglies" should have the advantage.

Hillsdale Keys
- Men of Troy - When HC QB Troy Weatherhead is connecting on his passes and managing the game efficiently (both of which he does MOST of the time) the Chargers have been very difficult to beat. In the pre-match, he really didn't post numbers that were all that great but he completed a lot of short passes that successfully kept the Lakers off-balance. While he was solid enough the last time around, he may need a bit more of a "polished" performance in this one as the GV secondary has been decidedly better in their games since.

- No "Secondary" Efforts - Much like Grand Valley's defensive backfield will be tested, it's a safe bet Hillsdale's will be too. The Chargers were only seventh in the league in stopping the pass this year. While Minnesota State was not a great passing team, when they needed to throw last week they were able to find success in several instances. GV QB Brad Iciek had a very good game last time around (22 of 29 for 261 and 2 TD's), so the Lakers should be plenty confident that they can throw the ball against this defense. One thing Hillsdale did well in the first game was to not give up the big play. They need to make sure they can accomplish the same this time around.

- Home away from Home - Hillsdale fans have to be thrilled to have a trip for this one that is nearly 500 miles shorter than the one they had to make to watch their team last week. Add in the "rematch" factor, along with several West Michigan kids on the Charger roster and rumors are swirling that Hillsdale plans on making a TON of noise at The Shipyard. By the sounds of it, they did so last week even with that long trip to face a team they (essentially) didn't know so I wouldn't discount the rumors. The question now becomes: Will Grand Valley fans will stand by and let their place be overrun? Expect the Charger faithful to be out in force and doing whatever they can to give their kids any kind of an edge.

Grand Valley Keys
- Offense Front - Despite having different groupings all year due to injuries, experiments with guys in different spots, and even a big wave of the flu (that knocked out half the team a couple of weeks ago but REALLY hit this group), the line play over the last four weeks has really started to come together. During that stretch, the Lakers have rushed for more than 277 yards per game and have yielded only two sacks. If this bunch can continue to perform at that level the Laker offense should be able to move the ball and do so effectively.

- Defensive Front - We talked the last time around about the size and physicality of the Hillsdale offensive line. While they didn't run the ball especially well when they met in October (only 58 net yards rushing for the Chargers), they did what they had to when it counted - especially in short yardage and goal line situations. Since that game, GV has done a lot to change their personnel and to move folks around, including Danny Richard who is proving to be as much of a havoc-wreaker from the inside as he is on the edge. If the GV front can cause some confusion for the HC line it could create blown assignments, free-running LB's, and excessive QB pressure that can really bog down the Hillsdale offense.

- Finish, finish, finish - In the three losses GV has suffered over the last three seasons (including the pre-match) one common theme can be found: The Lakers didn't finish drives when they had the chance. This is an imperative, especially during the playoffs. When the Lakers get into the red zone they MUST come away with TD's as often as possible. It sounds elementary but momentum, game flow, play-calling, etc. are all affected by whether or not a team is able to score, build leads, control momentum, etc. This can not be a problem for the Lakers or they will find themselves in trouble once again.

Over the past few days, I seem to have detected a bit of a consensus among a good portion of the Laker fan base that suggests they are expecting a repeat of last year's "rematch". In that instance, GV overcame a 15-point second half deficit against Ashland to win a 48-42 shootout during the regular season. Any anticipation of another wild affair in the playoffs was quickly doused as the Lakers had things over by halftime on their way to a 40-7 drubbing of the Eagles.

Will that happen Saturday? A Laker blowout in the playoffs after a close game (or even a loss) in the regular season? I suppose it could. Am I expecting it? Not really. I stated last week that I thought that this year's Hillsdale team was superior to last year's Ashland club and I stand by that statement. With that said, when you put the stats and X's-&-O's aside I really look to a couple of key factors that favor the home-standers. The first is that the Lakers are FAR more seasoned in terms of getting things done in the post-season. For players in this GV senior class Saturday will mark the tenth playoff game of their careers. That's almost an entire season's worth of games more than their opponent, and the Lakers know how to get things done after the leaves have fallen. The second factor is the "playoff gear" that GV often displays. Some may frown upon it and/or not like it (or even dispute it), but the Lakers truly have shown the ability to ratchet things up once the post-season commences and to play at an elevated level. Add both of those factors, along with a publicly unstated (even though you know it's there) desire to avenge this season's only blemish and I think the Lakers will find their way to a victory and make their ninth straight Regional Final appearance. Grand Valley 33, Hillsdale 23.

GLIAC Trivia
Last week, I wanted to know the name of the lone Ashland running back to register three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons. From 1992 through 1994, Keith Weaver accomplished the feat and earned his place as one of the all-time Eagle greats. Congratulations go out to Candy for being the first one in with the correct answer. Candy is a Wayne State fan (easy to understand, considering her most acclaimed role is that of Joique Bell's Mom), but she pointed out that if her Warriors aren't still playing that she's a GLIAC fan the rest of the way. I'm with you, Candy!
This week, let's take a closer look at our All-GLIAC playoff match-up. Both Hillsdale and Grand Valley have rather storied playoff histories. While the Lakers have enjoyed a lot of success in recent years, the Chargers had multiple stretches as an NAIA power before moving to the NCAA about twenty years ago. During the many playoff appearances (both NAIA and NCAA) that the two clubs have made, they actually share a pair of common opponents. For this week's copy of the Preview Magazine, tell which two schools have played both Hillsdale and Grand Valley at some point during a national playoff.

Send your answers, questions, or comments to me at .

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