DAWGS HEAD SOUTH: The road to the National Championship

COLUMN: A look at how Ferris football got to where they are

Photo by: Megell Strayhorn | Multimedia Editor

As you may know, the Bulldog football team is headed to their first-ever DII National Championship, so we’ll look back and see the road the Bulldogs had to conquer.

It all started well before the first game of the season, with the conversation of which quarterback would get the starting spot. It was running through everyone’s minds; the staff, players, even the coaches did not know who would start the first game against East Stroudsburg. The decision from that game forward would be one that could make this 2018 team go into the history books.

Enter junior Jayru Campbell. He was the expected starter for the Bulldogs, but no one was for certain yet, with the experience of Travis Russell and the great spring season Bret Mooney had. As the Bulldogs beat East Stroudsburg 49-17, it showed why Campbell would be the starter of this Bulldog team. As Campbell had a total of 304 yards with three touchdowns, rushing and passing combined, head coach Tony Annese and the Bulldogs knew they had a star from the get-go.

The Bulldogs went two weeks right after their opener putting up 50-plus points and holding their opponents to under 14 points each, with one of those teams being the 19th-ranked Findlay Oilers. Just like the first game, the Bulldogs were led by Campbell with a combined total of 661 yards and nine touchdowns in just six quarters.

On the contrary, the Bulldogs were tested in the next two weeks, one week with the Northern Michigan Wildcats, and then the next with the Ashland Eagles. Campbell would play the entire game for the first time this season and squeak out with a 35-19 win against the Wildcats. As for week five against the Ashland Eagles, the Bulldogs got out to a quick lead, but the Eagles had an eye on a comeback, scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter. However, they still fell short and the Bulldogs improved to 5-0 with a close 28-21 win.

The Battle at the Ballpark held at Fifth-Third Bank Ballpark against the Michigan Tech Huskies was no threat, as they continued their so-far perfect season with a 42-24 win to go 6-0.

What came the following week, as the Bulldogs had to travel back down south to Allendale, would tell the fate of what the team was capable of for the rest of the season.

It was Saturday, Oct. 13, and the matchup was the No. 3 Bulldogs against the No. 2 Grand Valley State Lakers in the Anchor-Bone Classic. It would appear that the winner of this game would eventually be the winner of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) and the players and fans knew that the game before them would be one to remember. With both teams going back and forth, which the score matched, it wasn’t until the final moments where the Bulldogs secured the 35-31 win.

Trailing 28-31 in the final five minutes, the Bulldogs marched into Laker territory and on 4th and 2 with 31 yards to go for a touchdown, the Bulldogs ran a trick play, a pitch to wide receiver Jevon Shaw to complete the pass to Campbell, who went all the way into the end zone. This trick play would be the game winning drive. Ferris handed the Lakers their first loss of the season while the Bulldogs stayed perfect.

Ferris seemed to be a little worn out from the Anchor-Bone Classic, as they barely beat the Saginaw Valley State Cardinals and the Wayne State Warriors in the following weeks. After those two games, however, the Bulldogs got back in the groove of things and defeated their next two opponents by a substantial score and finished the regular season undefeated and GLIAC champs at 11-0.

As the Bulldogs headed into the playoffs ranked No. 2 in their region, the phrase “Revenge Tour” started to float around as their first round matchup was against the Harding Bison, the team that knocked the Bulldogs out of the playoffs the year before. It looked as if the Bulldogs had the game in the bag going into the fourth quarter as they were up 21-0, but the Bison did not stop grinding to try and ruin the Bulldogs’ season. Ferris gave up 19 points in the fourth quarter and tension grew since they didn’t want a repeat of last year, but the Bison were stopped short, as the first stop of the “Revenge Tour” was complete with a 21-19 win over Harding.

The “Revenge Tour” kept on rolling as the Bulldogs faced the Northwest Missouri State Bearcats, the same team that beat the 2016 Bulldogs in the semi-finals. Campbell was not dressed due to an injury that occurred the previous game, so the pressure was on for all three quarterbacks the Bulldogs used to beat the Bearcats. Just like the previous week, the Bulldogs had the ball rolling but fell off after the second half, as they only scored a touchdown after they scored 20 points in the first half. The game came down to the final seconds but the Bulldogs forced a Bearcat fumble and secured the 27-21 win as well as improving to a school record of 13-0.

As for the regional final, the Bulldogs did not have much experience with the Ouachita Baptist Tigers besides a win in last year’s playoffs, but the revenge side of it came more from how these two teams were seeded in the region. The Tigers were ranked No. 1 in the region despite being ranked two spots below the Bulldogs in the American Football Coaches Association. Ferris was penalized for playing an ineligible player during the first few weeks of the season, so they looked to get revenge on the seeding and show that they should have been ranked No. 1 in the region. The Bulldogs had no problem getting past the Tigers as the rolled to the semi-finals after a dominant 37-14 win.

The Bulldogs would advance to their second National Semifinal game in three years, and while there was no previous history between the Minnesota State Mavericks and Ferris, they looked to get their “revenge” by doing what the 2016 team could not do, which was advance to the program’s first ever National Championship. The game was tight headed into halftime with a score of 21-19, but the Bulldogs took control in the second half and took down the Mavericks with a score of 42-25.

Now looking ahead, the Bulldogs greatest challenge awaits. They face a tough, undefeated Valdosta State Blazers football team in the National Championship for all the marbles. The Bulldogs look to win their first ever National Championship and the school’s second-ever title, just nine months after the men’s basketball team achieved this feat. The Bulldogs also look to become the first ever 16-0 program in any level of collegiate football. Although the 1894 Yale Bulldogs also went 16-0, it cannot truly be considered an official 16-win season, as four of their wins came from community gymnasiums, which is the equivalent to a club team.

For more coverage of the NCAA Division II National Championship, click here.