Despite missing playoffs this season, the Bulldogs contested for a shot at the post-season as they finished the year with eight wins.
Ferris State (8-3) finished the 2013 football season with a 35-22 win over Northern Michigan University, capping off a four game win streak and finishing out the year on a high note.
In most seasons, eight wins will get you a shot at a conference title and a playoff berth, but due to the outstanding play of both Saginaw Valley (9-2) and Ohio Dominican (10-0), the Bulldogs just missed out on a chance at a post-season.
“I thought that we made huge progress (this season), even though we want to be in the playoffs this weekend,” Ferris State head coach, Tony Annese, said. “All in all, I really think we hit our stride and played great football down the stretch.”
With Annese at the helm, the Bulldogs ended the year with an 8-2 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) record. Ferris has won eight conference games only once since 1996 prior to this season, showing how the program has grown in recent years to become one of the biggest contenders for the competitive conference.
A big part of Ferris’ success this year can be attributed to the play of the Bulldogs dominant ground game led by sophomore quarterback Jason Vander Laan.
Vander Laan cruised past defenses this season, amassing 1,607 yards on 265 carries and 21 rushing touchdowns, breaking the NCAA Division II quarterback rushing record and officially making himself a candidate for the 2013 Harlon Hill Trophy for DII player of the year.
Vander Laan also finished the season with 1,741 passing yards with 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
“I didn’t know what to expect coming into the year,” Vander Laan said. “Once we started being a dominating running team behind our o-line, I knew we would be putting up good stats.”
Many other Bulldogs also had notable years on offense as Ferris State led the GLIAC in total yards with 5,417 yards. They also scored 58 touchdowns.
Junior running back, Jamaal Jackson, finished second on the team with 399 rushing yards and five touchdowns while also acting as the lead blocker for Vander Laan.
Sophomore slot receiver Antonio Agurs and junior wide receiver Jake Lampman,led the team in the passing game as they combined for 942 receiving yards and six touchdowns in Ferris’ run-heavy “veer” attack.
Defensively, the Bulldogs overcame a slow start to finish the year as one of the GLIAC’s most improved squads. Ferris finished the season as the number one team in the conference against the run, allowing an average of only 136.1 yards per game. The Bulldogs also ended the year first in the GLIAC in defensive touchdowns with three.
Ferris’ defense was led by, among others, senior safety and University of Michigan transfer Marvin Robinson, who led the team with 89 total tackles including 50 solo takedowns.
Junior corner A.J. McEwen led the GLIAC with five interceptions while also having 12 pass breakups.
“I thought our defense showed a lot of toughness and determination,” senior safety, Jamar Wimberly, said. “I felt like when we needed to make a big play, we executed. We improved a ton since week one and we have gotten better and better.”
Along the defensive line, sophomore defensive end Justin Zimmer had a breakout year as the Academic All-District and All-GLIAC pick terrorized offenses. Zimmer finished the season with 10.5 tackles for a loss including 7.5 sacks while also adding a 20-yard pick-six.
With the college football offseason among us and spring ball months away, the team has already switched its focus to winning games next season and making another run at the GLIAC.
“I already have switched (to next season) in my mind, and I am really excited about next year,” Annese said. “Next year I just believe that we will be a group of players that have that swagger, that confidence, and that belief that we’re good and we can beat them all and that we are the team about that everyone has to worry about. To me we have resurrected this program and the mindset of our players from being a middle of the road team to being a powerhouse, and that’s where I want to be.”