ALLENDALE, Mich. -- Grand Valley State is back in the NCAA Division II Football Playoff semifinals after the Lakers picked up a 35-28 victory against West Texas A&M at Lubbers Stadium. The Lakers will now face a familiar playoff foe in Northwest Missouri State.
GVSU moves to 12-2 overall on the season, while West Texas A&M finishes the year with an 11-3 record.
A clutch second half performance on defense by GVSU, in which the Lakers allowed only 124 yards of total offense, keyed a come-from-behind victory, as the Lakers trailed 28-14 at halftime.
West Texas A&M, which rolled up 310 yards of total offense in the first half, was dominated in the second half by the GVSU defense. Three third-quarter interceptions by the defense and three third-quarter touchdowns by the offense kept the Lakers' season alive.
In the first quarter, the Buffaloes took their first two drives in to the endzone to get out to a quick 14-0 lead only 10 minutes in to the game. The Lakers got on the scoreboard with 2:25 to play in the first quarter, as a screen pass to Brandan Green went 36 yards for the score to cut the lead to 14-7.
West Texas A&M kept rolling on offense, however, finding the endzone again only three minutes in to the second quarter to go back up by two touchdowns, 21-7.
Again, GVSU had an answer, needing only two plays following an Erik Thompson 47-yard kickoff return, the scoring play being a 46-yard shovel pass for a score to Kirk Spencer with 11:47 to play to make it 21-14.
The fourth touchdown pass of the first half from Dustin Vaughan on the ensuing West Texas A&M drive again put the lead back up to two scores, at 28-14 with 6:10 to play in the half, and the teams would go in to the locker rooms with that score.
The Buffaloes were in control in the first half, with 310 total offensive yards, including 293 through the air with four touchdowns. The biggest stat in the half was West Texas A&M going 9-for-11 on third down opportunities.
In the second half, however, the tables turned, and the Laker defense controlled the game. After the Lakers began the third quarter with a fourth down two-yard touchdown pass to Joe Wirth to cut the lead to 28-21, a Deonte' Hurst interception on 3rd-and-3 was brought back to the Buffaloes' 37 yard line.
Five plays later, the score was tied, as Spencer rumbled in from 12 yards out to tie the game at 28 with 8:17 to play in the third quarter.
On the next West Texas A&M drive, pressure from the Laker defensive line forced an overthrow, and DeVonte' Jones picked off the pass near midfield to give the ball back to GVSU.
The Lakers were able to cash in again, as Heath Parling found a diving Jamie Potts with a 16-yard touchdown pass to give GVSU its first lead of the game, 35-28, with 3:27 to play in the third quarter. Earlier in the drive, GVSU faced a 4th-and6 from the West Texas A&M 34-yard line, but a fake punt was snapped to tight end Alton Voss, who ran for 18 yards and the first down to keep the drive alive.
It took only one play from scrimmage for GVSU to get the ball back again, as Reggie Williams made a diving pick on the first play of the Buffaloes' drive, giving GVSU the ball back near midfield again with its third interception in West Texas A&M's last seven pass attempts.
The defense was relied upon in the fourth quarter, and they were up to the task, forcing two West Texas A&M punts, an incomplete pass on fourth down inside the GVSU 10-yard line, and a missed field goal.
The Lakers took over with 2:13 to play and after West Texas A&M stopped the clock after the first two plays, GVSU faced a 3rd-and-7 with about two minutes to play. Parling then took the snap, rolled right, and took off for a 12 yard gain to salt the game away and send the Lakers to the national semifinals.
It was the fourth week in a row that the Laker defense faced a Harlon Hill semifinalist at quarterback, with West Texas A&M's Vaughan being one of the final eight candidates for the award. The Lakers defeated all of them, however, beating Saginaw Valley State's Jonathon Jennings twice and Colorado State-Pueblo's Dustin Bonner last week.
The Laker offense, which was held to only 295 yards of total offense, still got a big performance from Spencer, as he finished the game with four catches for 77 yards and a touchdown to go with 21 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Chris Robinson led GVSU in rushing with 48 yards. Potts finished the game with four catches for 49 yards and a touchdown, while Green had three catches for 51 yards and a touchdown. Wirth's fourth-down touchdown catch was his only catch of the game.
Parling was 16-for-32 for 219 yards, four touchdowns and one interception in the game. It was the third game in the last four that Parling has thrown for four touchdowns.
Defensively, GVSU was led by Hurst, who finished with a game-high 15 tackles, including one tackle for loss (-5 yards) and an interception. Williams had eight tackles and a pick, while Luther Ware had seven tackles, including one sack (-8 yards) and two tackles for loss (-14 yards) to go with an additional quarterback hurry. Jordan Kaufman, the team's leading tackler on the season, had six tackles, including a sack. Isiah Dunning and De'Ondre Hogan each had six tackles and half a sack (-3 yards). The Laker defense kept pressure on Vaughan most of the game, racking up seven quarterback hurries as a team.