For almost a half-century, the annual Battle for Valley Supremacy has been waged on the gridiron.
Archrivals Grand Valley and Pymatuning Valley will tee it up for the 46th time tonight at Laker Stadium in a crucial game in terms not only bragging rights and pride, but also for contention in the Northeastern Athletic Conference championship.
Coach Joe LaRosa’s Ledgemont Redskins have ruled the NAC the past two seasons while blazing a trail to the Division VI playoffs, but both the Mustangs (3-3, 0-0) and the Lakers (2-4, 1-0) have designs on giving Ledgemont (2-4, 1-0) a run for its money.
The respective coaches tonight — first-year Grand Valley coach John Glavickas and third-year PV coach Neal Croston —realize this matchup is the equivalent to Ohio State-Michigan for not only their players and staffs, but also for their school, their community and their graduates.
“You can’t help but have personal feelings come into play,” Glavickas, who earned his stripes in this rivalry while serving as former coach Tom Henson’s offensive coordinator, said. “So far, it been like getting ready for any other opponent, but I’m not foolish to think that the butterflies won’t start flying.
“You can even feel it within the players. It’s special. This what these kids play for.”
Croston’s first two PV teams won 13 games. However, none of them came against Grand Valley.
“The game is special because so many people have been involved with it over the years,” he said. “Whether it be as player, student, or parent, everyone has a story about one particular PV-GV game.
“The players really look forward to the game because both communities really come out to see this game.”
What they will see tonight are two teams on the upswing.
Grand Valley is coming off a 50-24 whipping of visiting Lutheran East, a win that snapped a two-game skid and pulled the Mustangs back to the .500 mark. GV ran the ball down the Falcons’ throat, rushing for 313 yards, including 149 on 16 carries and a 3-yard touchdown by Stanley Sirrine and 94 on 13 rushes by Tyler Drenski, who scored three touchdowns on runs of 2, 18 and 5 yards. Sean Szitas carried seven times for 39 yards, including scoring scampers of 2 and 16 yards.
“The Lutheran East game kind of went the way we had planned and thought it could be executed,” Glavickas said. “We were able to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. We always felt we would go as far as our offensive line would take us. They played a good game up front on both sides of the ball.
“Lutheran East definitely had some athletic ability on both sides of the ball, but they just didn’t have enough time to execute it. We actually were able to hit 6 out of 7 extra points. It was a good night.”
Its offense was again impressive, putting up 191 yards rushing and 173 passing for a total of 364. Tim Cross was a one-man gang, matching an Ohio state record by hauling in a 99-yard scoring strike from quarterback Grant Nowakowski and also a 20-yard TD connection from Nowakowski, whose three completions on the night all went for touchdowns, the third being a 7-yarder to Quintin Ratliff. Ratliff also did his share on the ground, rushing six times for 116 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown dash.
But it was the PV defense which really did its job, registering the Lakers’ second shutout in a row. Cross blocked a field-goal attempt and ran it back 80 yards for his third touchdown of the night.
The last time the Lakers had more than one shutout in a season was 1997, Ken Parise’s final season at the helm, when they blanked visiting Southington in Week 4, 62-0, and rolled at Fairport in Week 8, 41-0.
On top of that, the last time PV posted back-to-back shutouts was in Weeks 9 and 10 of the 1986 season — also under Parise’s direction — when it beat Ledgemont, 30-0, and Mathews in double-overtime, 6-0, at Laker Stadium. The Lakers, who began playing football in the fall of 1963, have never shut out three straight opponents. The school record for most shutouts in a season is three, set by Hall of Fame coach Joe Kearney’s 1974 Lakers and Parise’s aforementioned 1986 squad.
“The defense put up another zero on the scoreboard and got some big stops against Mathews to preserve the shutout,” Croston said. “On offense, we had some big plays in the passing game early and added some explosive runs in the third quarter.”
The two coaches have plenty of respect for their opposition tonight.
“PV has quite a few weapons in its arsenal,” Glavickas said. “Of course, you have to be aware of the speed of Ratliff, Cross and Nowakowski. They have quite of few guys who can get the job done.
“On defense, they flow to the ball well. Nowakowski does a nice job of controlling the offense. Cross and Ratliff can do damage in many different ways.”
“GV is a talented team, which plays a physical brand of football,” Croston said. “They have strong offensive and defensive fronts and good athletes behind them.
“Glen Zaller anchors their lines and is a good player. Running backs Stanley Sirrine and Tyler Drenski are physical backs who lead their rushing attack. GV plays two quarterbacks in Kyle Orgovan and Jake Vormelker, who are dual-threat QBs.”
In the matchup between archrivals, which Grand Valley leads, 28-15 with two ties, the coaches realize what must be done to emerge victorious.
“To be successful, we need to play assignment football on defense,” Glavickas said. “Speed can hurt you if you aren’t where you are supposed to be.
“On offense, we need to control the line of scrimmage.
“On special teams, we have to not allow any big plays. We have to win the special-teams battle.”
Croston, whose seniors have never beaten Grand Valley as PV’s last win in this matchup was a 36-27 Week 3 verdict in 2008, was more succinct.
“No. 1, the lines, controlling the run game,” he said. “No. 2, turnovers — they change the game.
“And No. 3, big plays — they lead to points.”
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