Northwest football opened the new era of the Grand Valley State rivalry with a strong 42-17 victory over the Lakers Nov. 17 in Allendale, Michigan.
Big games from junior running back Isaiah Strayhorn and senior running back Josh Caldwell helped the Bearcats (10-2) dominate in the second half, outscoring the Lakers 28-7. Strayhorn put up 171 yards rushing on only 11 attempts averaging a team-high 15.5 yards per rush.
Along with the yards Strayhorn had two rushing touchdowns on the day including an 84-yard scamper late in the third quarter to make the lead 28-17 over the Laker (10-2). Not to be outdone Caldwell rushed for 147 yards on 15 carries and equaled Strayhorn with two touchdowns of his own.
The big key for Northwest to the strong second half was getting settled into the game and the road atmosphere in Allendale.
“The first quarter, second quarter it took us a little bit to get going and the second half we made some adjustments,” assistant head coach and co-offensive coordinator Charlie Flohr said via the Bearcat Radio Network. “We put it on our offensive line and our running backs and they finished out the game strong.”
With 43 rushing attempts, the ground game was a constant for the Bearcats throughout the game and paid off with 356 rushing yards and four touchdowns. While the rushing attack powered the offense, the defense played its usual dominant style Northwest has grown accustomed to seeing.
Grand Valley State managed 239 total yards of offense on 3.5 yards per play. Coming into the game, the Lakers averaged 433 yards per game on 6.8 yards per play. The Bearcat defense was able to dominate in both the run game and the passing game in part due to the quarterback pressure.
Senior defensive end Austen Eskew accounted for three of the Bearcats four sacks on the day and had two more quarterback hits. Just like the offense the second half was where the front seven for Northwest’s defense thrived.
“Early on, especially in the first half, we talked to our defensive line and out linebackers about not throwing off and disengaging too early,” linebacker coach Chad Bostwick said on the Bearcat Radio Network. “Second half we focused on getting a vertical push and making sure the ball strings out and shut the run game down that way.”
The Bearcat defense was able to hold the Lakers to a mere 2.9 yards per carry and allowed a total of 111 rushing yards. As the run game continued to struggle for Grand Valley State the Northwest secondary made it a difficult day for Laker quarterbacks Bart Williams and Cole Kotopka.
Both Williams and Kotopka were picked off by senior safety Jack Richards as Richards finished with two interceptions. Only one of the two interceptions would lead to Bearcats points.
After a slow start Northwest put together a dominant win in order to punch its ticket to the next round of the NCAA Division II Playoff. The Bearcats will matchup with Ferris State Nov. 24 in Big Rapids, Michigan.