No. 1 Ferris State football has earned its second consecutive GLIAC championship and undefeated regular season.
They capped the season off with a 38-7 victory that was really over after a 28-0 first quarter.
Junior receiver Shakur Sanders said, “A conference title isn’t enough. We expected that. We want to be champions. We want that ship.”
Last year, the Bulldogs’ season ended with a playoff loss to division rival Ohio Dominican Panthers. Ferris State had beaten the Panthers in the regular season 34-19 but lost in the playoffs 46-33.
Tony Annese is in his fourth season as the Ferris State head coach. He said, “We didn’t execute. We played a tough game but you have to execute in the fourth quarter. We just didn’t get it done.”
Annese says Ferris lost that playoff game in the fourth quarter. But the Bulldogs lost the fourth quarter of the season itself with complacency.
Junior receiver Jamel Lockett said, “I guess you could say we got complacent or lost a little edge. It’s not like we weren’t practicing hard. Physically we were ready. I don’t think we were mentally.”
Lockett says that the team mentality this year is different. “We’re putting together complete games at the end of the year. We’re not letting our foot off their throats.”
This team has improved from last year in many facets of the game.
On offense the Bulldogs have become more balanced. Last year they gained 322.2 rushing yards and 202.6 passing yards a game compared to 277.5 and 256.6 this year. They average 10 more overall offensive yards from last year and are ranked third nationally in that category this year.
Senior All-American quarterback Jason Vander Laan has developed into the best dual threat quarterback in the nation. Lockett said, “He’s someone we look up to not just in his play but how he carries himself.”
Vander Laan has always been known as a running quarterback. He lead his team in rushing every year he played and broke the record for career quarterback rushing yards, but the 2014 Harlon Hill Trophy winner is having the best passing year in his career. He averages 233.1 passing yards per game compared to his career average of 179.4.
He is also a Harlon Hill contender this year.
The maturation of the Ferris receiving corp is a big reason behind Vander Laan’s success. Two seniors lead the team in receptions and yards in Jake Lampman and Antonio Agurs. Lampan has 646 yards on 44 receptions and Agurs has 548 yards on 56 receptions.
Sanders began the year as a preseason All-American but early season injuries set him back statistically. He has come around to form since then scoring all five of his touchdowns in the second half of the season.
Jamel Lockett leads Ferris receivers in yards per catch averaging 15.9.
On defense the Bulldogs are allowing two less points and 96.4 less yards per game from last year. The biggest improvement has been in stopping the run. They allow 75.9 rush yards per game compared to 116.9 last year.
Junior linebacker Anthony Darkangelo said, “Everybody’s doing what they got to do on every single play. Everyone is worrying about their eleventh of the field. We’re doing what we need to do this year.”
On a defense that is first in the GLIAC, Darkangelo is third in tackles and second in sacks with 51 and nine.
Senior defensive end Justin Zimmer leads the team in tackles, sacks and tackles for loss. He has 71 tackles with 20.5 for loss and 9.5 sacks.
Darkangelo said, “I look up to him because of the way he plays. That’s why I try to play my hardest every time I play. It’s nice to have someone like him to come in before me and show me how things are done.”
Ferris State’s first playoff game will be against Texas A&M Commerce at noon on Saturday, Nov. 21 at Top Taggart Field in Big Rapids.