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Ferris football advances to NCAA semifinals

Ferris State football has advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA Div. 2 Playoffs for just the second time in program history, with their first appearance occurring in 1995.
Ferris State football has advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA Div. 2 Playoffs for just the second time in program history, with their first appearance occurring in 1995. Photo by: Keith Salowich | Editor in Chief

The Bulldogs have moved on to the national semifinals and brought back the Anchor-Bone Trophy after defeating formerly unbeaten rival Grand Valley State Saturday, Dec. 3.

The Bulldogs are one win away from the national championship game after beating the Lakers, who put the Dawgs playoff hopes in doubt in week six of the season by giving them their second loss of the regular season.

The Bulldogs defeated Ohio Dominican 41-0 in their home season opener and won their next two games against Michigan Tech and Northwood by a total of three points before losing to Ashland at home 39-31 Saturday, Sep. 24. This loss snapped a 28-game regular season winning streak dating back to 2014.

Following the Ashland game, the Dawgs squeezed by Findlay 20-17 before facing Grand Valley on the road Saturday, Oct. 8. The Lakers took home the Anchor-Bone Trophy with a 35-23 victory.

Head coach Tony Annese knew his team was not heading in the right direction.

“I think we could have been one and five,” Annese said. “Last time we were here, we were lucky to beat some teams and we weren’t a good football team.”

After the Grand Valley loss, a switch flipped for Ferris as the crimson and gold ended the regular season with five straight victories with an average score of 44-18. That surge earned the Bulldogs the No. 2 seed in Super Region IV behind No. 1 seed Grand Valley.

As if destiny made it so, the Dawgs and the Lakers met each other at the end of the bracket. This time the roles were reversed as the Lakers failed a late comeback attempt.

Back in week six, the Bulldogs had an opportunity to make it a one possession game with the ball on the goal line. However, senior quarterback Trevor Birmingham fumbled the ball, giving the ball to the Lakers to run out the clock.

This time around, the Lakers fumbled the ball twice in the fourth quarter and failed to convert an onside kick after cutting the lead to eight. The onside kick was fielded by junior defensive back KC Zenner and returned for a touchdown.

“A change of quarterback offensively and an extremely aggressive game plan were the biggest differences from the week six matchup and the quarter final matchup,” said Mitchell.

Grand Valley quarterback Bart Williams was under constant pressure on Saturday getting sacked six times. The GLIAC leader in sacks and sophomore defensive end Zach Seiler added three and a half more sacks to his total. Grand Valley running back, Marty Carter, gained 168 yards on the ground for the Lakers but they could not complete passes when it counted late in the game due to the pressure applied by the Bulldog defense.

Grand Valley did not face Bermingham in week six so it was difficult to adjust to his patient, block-riding running style from Bell’s more speedy style. Even if Bermingham had played, he is a much more experienced player now than he was earlier in the season.

Senior quarterback Reggie Bell suggested to Annese that Bermingham start on senior night against Saginaw Valley in the last regular season game. Bermingham made the most of that opportunity with five touchdowns and 381 yards of total offense in a 51-17 win.

Bell started the next week in the first round of the playoffs against Midwestern State but was knocked out in the first quarter due to injury. This did not deter the Bulldogs as Bermingham stepped in and orchestrated an offense that put up 65 points. He then made his second career start against Colorado Mines where he had five touchdowns and 436 yards of total offense in a 38-17 victory.

Bell started against Grand Valley when the Bulldogs made an early surge. After a first possession fumble from Bell, a safety, field goal and Bell rushing touchdown had them up 12-0 before two field goals and a 48-yard touchdown put the Lakers up 13-12.

Bell threw an interception in the second quarter which led to the 48-yard touchdown run from Grand Valley’s Marty Carter. Bermingham replaced Bell and would give the Bulldogs the lead shortly, and eventually the win.

Mitchell said, “We had the lead and they brought in Trevor Bermingham and I think he made a big difference for that football team.”

Bermingham’s first scoring drive was set up by sophomore receiver Malik Taylor who returned the ball to the Laker 49. Another huge throw to Taylor a few plays later had the Bulldogs at the two where Bermingham ran it in. He followed that up with a 19-yard quarterback draw touchdown on the next possession.

Taylor garnered 45 of his 132 receiving yards on the following drive after he set the Dawgs up with great field position again at their own 49. Bermingham delivered the ball to Taylor who was initially wrapped up by multiple defenders, but was able to push backwards and free himself to run 20 yards before being tackled at the five yard-line. Bermingham followed with his third rushing touchdown of the day.

Despite Bermingham’s stellar play, Bell is the starter moving forward.

Annese said, “Reggie is our starter and that hasn’t changed.”

The body of work is what Annese says determines his starting quarterback. Bell has been the starter most of the season and Bermingham has been the back-up. However, both quarterbacks will continue to play even if the back-up is only in for a few plays. Bermingham has been worked all year as a short yardage and change-of-pace quarterback. Bell did the same on Saturday after being taken out.

With Bell still notched at the starter and a Ferris defense that has suffocated teams all year, the Bulldogs put their thus-far resilient season on the line against Northwest Missouri State in the national semifinals on Saturday, Dec. 10 at 3:30 p.m. in Maryville, Mo.