??The guys played their hearts out today,?? interim head coach Mike Nesbitt said. ??They had our backs as coaches the whole year and did great stuff for us this season. ??We didn??t do what we needed to do to finish the game and come out where we needed to be. They are good kids and their careers have been great here, especially the senior class. I am nothing but proud of them.??
WT was led by senior quarterback Dustin Vaughan who threw for 397 yards on 36 of 53 with four touchdowns and three interceptions. Junior wide receiver Anthony Johnson and senior Torrence Allen each had 11 receptions with Johnson have a game-high 165 yards with two scores, while Allen had 141 yards.
The Buffs dominated a majority of the stats, but not the scoreboard one at the end. WT out-gained GVSU 434-295 and 397-219 in passing yards. Both WT had 37 yards rushing and the Lakers had 76. Credit GVSU as it held WT to 124 yards of total offense in the second half after having 310 yards of offense in the first half.
Three, third quarter interceptions proved costly for WT as the Lakers converted two into touchdowns and used a fake punt for a first down setting up the go ahead and game winning touchdown in the quarter.
??Obviously he made a great play on the first one,?? Vaughan said. ??The second one the ball came out wrong and didn??t go where I wanted it to and the third I made a bad decision and should have taken the sack and move on to the next play. Grand Valley made plays when it mattered and we didn??t.??
WT didn??t quit as a nice interception by senior Curtis Slater deep in WT territory and a fumble recovery by senior linebacker Taylor McCuller in the fourth quarter gave the Buffs a chance.
??The fake punt was unexpected for me and for our team,?? Nesbitt added. ??It gave them some momentum back and they were able to punch it in for the lead.??
Vaughan and Co., marched to the GVSU seven, but the fourth down pass sailed high in the end zone on a bang-bang play that could have been called pass interference. GVSU had to punt on its next possession as WT had another chance down seven late in the game.
WT reached to the GV 22, but senior kicker Sergio Castillo uncharacteristically missed his second field goal of the game with 2:13 left.
The Buff ??D?? needed to stand strong once again and forced a third and seven from the GVSU 25, but Parling broke a tackle and scampered 12 yards for the first down to seal the game.
??You have to do what you have to do to win, offense, defense and special teams,?? Nesbitt said. ??I thought our defense came back up and made some key plays and got some turnovers. We just didn??t punch it in and score when we needed to. These guys are good players and good kids and there is nothing I??m upset with them as I am very proud of them.??
Vaughan finishes a stellar season with a school and conference record 5,401 yards passing and 53 touchdowns. He finishes his career with 13,525 yards passing and 123 touchdown passes. Vaughan now will wait to see if he is invited to Florence, Ala., as one of the final three for the 2013 Harlon Hill Trophy. Vaughan finished fourth in the balloting last season.
WT set the conference record for points in a season with 645 points surpassing Abilene Christian??s mark of 639 set in 2007. The Buffs came within three completions of the LSC record of 460 for the season and set the conference passing record with 5,544 yards. They also set the total plays mark of 1066 surpassing the previous mark of 1,028 set by Eastern New Mexico in 2009.
The Buffs took the opening kick and marched right down the field as Vaughan was on fire. He went 5 for 5 on the opening drive as WT went six plays for 70 yards with Vaughan hooking up with Johnson for a 33-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead just 2:24 into the contest.
The Buff ??D?? stood tall on the Lakers opening possession as senior defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks came up with a huge sack on a 3rd and 12 forcing a punt.
Harris and the Buffs continued the strong offensive play as they turned to the run more on the second offensive possession. On a 4th and 21 from the GVSU, Vaughan connected with senior Jace Jackson for a big first down to keep the drive alive. Johnson had two big catches, one for 29 yards on a 3rd and 3 from the GVSU 30. Vaughan connected with Jackson for a 2-yard score and a 14-0 lead with 4:32 remaining in the first quarter.
A holding penalty on the Buffs put the Lakers in good possession on the next drive. GV quarterback Heath Parling tossed a 36-yard touchdown pass to Brandan Green for a 14-7 score with 2:25 left in the frame.
WT didn??t fret as it came right back once again and used a 12 play 76-yard drive consuming 5:38 on the clock as Vaughan made another great third down conversion setting the Buffs up with a 1st and goal at the one on a 24-yard pass to senior Trevor Hammargren. Vaughan tossed his third touchdown pass of the half, this time to senior Torrence Allen for a 21-7 score.
GVSU had a great kickoff return from Erick Thompson setting the Lakers up once again with good field position. Parling threw a 46-yard touchdown pass in the flat to Kirk Spencer who broke a number of tackles for the score on a 2 play, 47-yard drive and a 21-14 score.
Again, WT had the answer silencing the crowd again as a steady mix of running and nice passing from Vaughan as he connected a 3rd and 13 and a 3rd and 15 on the drive with a pair of 22-yard passes to Allen. Johnson climbed the ladder for a great leaping catch for his second touchdown reception of the half and a 28-14 lead.
GVSU went three-and-out once again as WT took over inside Laker territory and got to the 29, but a sack forced the Buffs into a long field goal. Senior kicker Sergio Castillo missed a 50-yarder wide left with 1:23 left.
The Buff defense stood tall as GVSU tried to go for the two-for-one late in the half, but Westrbrooks came up with his second sack of the half to stymie the drive and end the half.
WT tallied 310 yards of offense in the first half to just 126 for the Lakers. Vaughan was 23 of 31 passing for 293 yards and four touchdowns. Both Allen and Johnson were over 100 yards receiving as Johnson had nine catches for 152 yards and Allen had 101 yards.
The Buffs tallied 16 first downs in the half to just seven for GVSU and was 9 of 11 on third down while the Lakers were 1 of 4.