• 36°

Defenses will play big role in Delta State- Grand Valley semi-final

Delta State coach Rick Rhoades has watched all 13 games Grand Valley State played this season in preparation for Sunday’s national semifinals.

While the play of Division II’s most dominant team was engrossing, Rhoades kept finding himself distracted by the Lakers’ scoreboard.

“All I know is on their scoreboard it’s got ’national champions’ and it’s got about 18 different dates under it,” Rhoades joked.

They’re not quite that proficient, but the No. 11 Statesmen (12-2) will still have quite a challenge standing between them and the national championship game in Florence, Ala., against the winner of the Bloomsburg-Northwest Missouri State game.

The top-ranked Lakers (13-0) have won 26 straight and three of the last five national championships with appearances in five of the last six national semifinals.

“They’re a very, very confident bunch and it doesn’t look like they’re ever stretched,” Rhoades said. “I’ve watched all (13) games and there was never a time when I said, ’OK, here’s where I get to see what they’ve got.”’

Grand Valley State coach Chuck Martin has also spent long hours in front of the screen watching all 14 Delta State games.

He doesn’t much like what he sees, either. Long known for its high-powered offense run by quarterback Scott Eyster, the Statesmen now feature a defense that is the second in the nation in scoring defense (10.9 points per game) and sixth in total defense. They’ve given up a total of 89 rushing yards in three playoff games.

“Nobody can block them,” Martin said. “I haven’t seen anybody block them yet in 14 games. Their down kids, their linebackers, their DBs, no one can find a way to block them. And they’re giving up 10-point-something points a game in one of the best leagues in the country, which are scary numbers.”