For the second time in the past three seasons, the Ferris football team has advanced to the NCAA Division II semfinals, although this time they are looking to change history and advance to the National Championship Game.
Ferris’ opponent, Minnesota State University-Mankato comes into Saturday, Dec. 8’s game undefeated, just like the Bulldogs. They are looking for their second National Championship appearance in the last five seasons and have been ranked No. 1 in the nation throughout the season.
On offense, the Mavericks are led by their rushing attack. They rank 17th in Division II in rushing yards per game with 243 yards per contest. This dynamic ground game has led them to rank among the nation leaders in scoring. The Mavericks rank 11th in the nation, scoring a whopping 41 points per game, which should present a major challenge to what has primarily been a subpar Ferris defense.
Speaking of the Ferris defense, it is interesting to note that this matchup actually works in their favor. Ferris has only allowed teams to gain 103 yards per game on the ground, good for 15th in the nation. Their weakness comes in defending the pass. Luckily for them, passing the ball isn’t typically something that the Mavericks likes to do.
Overall, on offense the Mavericks have a few key players that Ferris will have to slow down if they want to compete in this ball game.
At running back, the Mavericks have one of the nation’s best in sophomore Nate Gunn. Gunn has run the ball this season for 1556 yards and 21 touchdowns, both of which rank among the tops in all of Division II.
At quarterback, Minnesota State plays two players who each carry different skill sets. The first of the two is junior Ryan Schlichte, who is the better passer of the two quarterbacks. Schlichte has thrown for 1800 yards this season with 18 touchdowns to go along with seven interceptions. They also rotate in sophomore JD Ekowa, who is the more athletic player. Ekowa comes into this game with 985 passing yards with 10 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also has compiled 356 rushing yards and four touchdowns on the ground.
And finally, in the passing game, the Mavericks rely on just two main targets. Those targets are junior receivers Shane Zylstra and Justin Arnold. At 6’5”, Zylstra is a big receiver capable of making tight, contested catches. On the season he has 57 catches for 1083 yards and 14 touchdowns.
His so-called sidekick, Arnold, has been a great compliment to Zylstra. Arnold has caught 44 balls this season to the tune of 717 yards with four touchdown grabs.
If Ferris can contain those key players, then they should have a great chance of winning this game with a defense that has improved dramatically in these playoffs.
On defense the Mavericks have all the tools to shut down this dynamic Bulldog offense that is led by Harlon Hill candidate Jayru Campbell. Like the Bulldog’s defense, the Maverick defense is also known for the ability to stop the run, which is key as Ferris ranks sixth in the nation with 277 rushing yards per game. The Minnesota State-Mankato rush defense allows a measly 91 yards per game, which is good for eighth in the nation. Therefore, expect to see Ferris try to throw the ball around more in order to exploit this Minnesota State-Mankato secondary, an effort that should be aided, considering that no snow is expected on game day.
All in all, this matchup is between the two teams that spent most of the season ranked 1-2 in the national polls. They are greatly considered the two best teams in the nation and are only meeting in the seminals due to Ferris losing their number one seed due to an infraction that was caught by the NCAA just before the playoffs started.
It will be a cold one, but with so much on the line, it should also be a good one, as these two powerhouses battle it out for a chance to keep their National Championship hopes alive.
For coverage of the National Semifinals and National Championship, click here.