Cardinals open season with big win over Saints
The Grand Valley Cardinals rolled to a dominating win over the visiting Vail Christian Saints, Friday, on a night in which the school’s new football facility was opened to the public.
With the new stadium opening up without a hitch, the Cardinals provided the fireworks on both sides of the ball in the 40-point win, giving the rebuilding program its second-straight win dating back to the end of last season under second-year Head Coach Tim Lenard.
Offensively the Cardinals rushed for 257 yards on the night, but what really set the tone for Grand Valley’s convincing win was the Cardinals’ passing attack as junior quarterback Jeff Holbrook put to bed any doubts about who would lead the Grand Valley offense this season.
Holbrook threw for 69 yards and three scores, including a 46-yard strike to junior Garrett Magee in the first half that allowed the Cardinals to pull away for good.
“That [the passing game] has been something we’ve been working on since last year,” Lenard said. “So we’re trying to get to a point with our offense where we’re balanced, so it was big for us to have some success there and get some confidence.”
As Holbrook hooked up with Magee, sophomore Angel Garcia and junior Jayden Wood for scores, sophomore running back Jonathan Pena provided some balance on the ground for Grand Valley, rushing for 86 yards and a score on an impressive 20-yard burst that saw him bounce off of would-be tacklers along the left sideline before dragging a Vail Christian defender into the end zone.
Along with Pena, Holbrook had a big day on the ground as well, rushing for 99 yards and a touchdown on ten carries.
Wanting to be a fast, physical team on offense this season, the Cardinals achieved just that.
“We definitely were able to do that tonight,” senior captain Austin Fox said. “We still have some things we need to work on, but I’m definitely impressed with what we did tonight. I’m just thrilled that we fought for four quarters and didn’t spot them any points and really took control of the game early.”
Starting things off in the first home game at the new facility, the Cardinals wasted little time getting on the board as on the third play from scrimmage Garcia took the jet sweep off the left side and raced 49 yards into the end zone, giving Grand Valley a 6-0 lead.
Forcing a turnover on downs on Vail Christian’s first possession, the Cardinals stretched their lead three plays later as Holbrook scampered in from 24 yards out on a third-and-one play to give Grand Valley a 13-0 lead just over halfway through the first quarter.
Two plays later on the Saints’ ensuing drive, Laytham Magana made a tremendous diving interception — one of his team-high three interceptions on the night — to give Grand Valley the ball back in great field position.
Unfortunately, a fumble by Garcia ended the Cardinals’ chance to add to the lead, but in a sign of things to come, the Grand Valley defense remained stout and gave the ball back to its offense as a host of Cardinals sacked Vail Christian’s Tom Engleby for the first of eight times on the night.
Following a missed field goal by Garcia, Magana came up with his second interception of the night, giving the Cardinals great field position once again, which lead to Pena’s touchdown run.
Garcia then got into the interception act for the Cardinals, picking off Engleby’s ill-advised throw.
A turnover-on-downs by the Saints’ 1-yard line lead to a safety due to a high snap getting over Engleby’s head.
The Vail Christian quarterback was able to pick up the ball deep in his end zone, but senior linebacker Evan Hoff was there to wrestle him to the ground for the safety, pushing Grand Valley’s lead to 22-0 right before the half.
On the ensuing possession, Holbrook found Magee streaking down the right sideline for the score, sending the Cardinals into the half with a 29-0 lead largely due to some outstanding defensive plays.
“I was very pleased with the defensive performance, obviously,” Lenard said. “Our first group of defense is very tough and we’re excited about their potential. When you get turnovers like that and capitalize on offense like that, we want our defense out there. That old cliche of ‘defense wins games’ is the truth. We want to get better and better each and every week and I think we did that on defense.”
After a big half on both sides of the ball to start the game, that tough Grand Valley defense picked up right where it left off to start the second half as Levi Nolan stepped in front of an errant Engleby throw, setting up Holbrook’s 11-yard strike to Wood to make it 36-0.
A few drives later Holbrook found a wide open Garcia on a post patter in the middle of the field for the 12-yard touchdown, putting the game well out of reach with the Cardinals up 43-0.
Garcia would add a 37-yard field goal later in the fourth quarter before Vail Christian would find the end zone with nine seconds left to cap off the scoring for both sides.
“We wanted that shutout bad,” Fox said. “ It was a goal of ours coming into the game and it was disappointing, but I’m still very proud of what we did tonight.”
Grand Valley (1-0) will host Basalt (0-1) in a Week Two matchup at home.
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