Ferris took on Valdosta State in the NCAA Division II National Championship Game Saturday, Dec. 15. In the game, the Bulldogs battled back and forth with the Blazers of Valdosta State before losing a close game 49-47.
In further examination of this game, the reasons for this loss came down to three in particular: they lost the minutes of possession battle, they couldn’t defend Valdosta’s receivers and there were some questionable play calls.
So let’s dive into this game, shall we?
As Ferris head coach Tony Annese stated multiple times in the postgame press conference, the defense failed to get off the field. This was bad for Ferris for a multitude of reasons, aside from the obvious fact that it increased the likelihood of Valdosta scoring points.
For starters, it means they put way more pressure on the Ferris offense. This is due to the fact that the longer Valdosta held the ball, the less possessions that the Bulldog offense received. This increased the importance of each possession as they had fewer chances to score, so they had to maximize the amount of points they got on each and every possession.
It also meant that it kept the ball out of Harlon Hill winner Jayru Campbell’s hands because the Bulldogs had to nd ways to keep the ball as long as possible, thus leading to a heavy dose of runs from a bevy of players.
While that was a big reason for the loss, an even bigger aspect of the loss was the inability to defend the passing attack of Valdosta State. There was also a multitude of reasons for this, such as a lack of pass rush, but the biggest reason was the inability for the defensive backs of Ferris to stay on top of the Valdosta receivers.
This led to multiple big plays through the air, including three touchdown passes of more than 20 yards that really tilted the game in favor of Valdosta.
Why was this able to happen exactly? It’s as simple as the fact that the matchups were in favor of the Blazers and they were able to take advantage of those matchups with their speed across the board on offense. As Valdosta receiver Lio’undre Gallimore said in the post-game press conference, he just won a foot race against the defender he was up against. It just so happened that it was a common occurrence throughout the evening.
The final reason that may have led to Ferris losing the game is a little more controversial, and opinions will vary greatly on whether or not these decisions were right or wrong. However, one of the biggest reasons for a Ferris loss in this game might come down to play calling, especially one play call in particular.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I think that the play calling was pretty spot on for 99 percent of the night, but the one particular call that may not have been the right one is the play call on the failed-two point conversion try that was ultimately the difference in the game.
Hindsight is 20/20 of course — and it is easy to say that the play was wrong after it failed — but just look at this quote from Valdosta State Head Coach Kerwin Bell:
“It came down to a big play and everybody is sort of running that play after the Eagles made it famous last year, and we covered it really well.”
Bell is saying that it wasn’t necessarily all that surprising that they ran that play in that situation, as it is now being run by every team from the high school level to the NFL. But that is hardly the biggest issue that I have with the play call.
My issue is that it removes the ball from your star player’s hands. I think it would have been better if a play was called where Campbell could roll out of the pocket and decide whether he wanted to pass or run the ball for the conversion.
Of course, as I said above, hindsight is 20/20. If this play had worked, I wouldn’t be saying this, but when you look back at it, it is fair to wonder what would have happened if the play wasn’t so “predictable.”
Overall, it was a close game, and Ferris allowed plenty of opportunities to go out there and win themselves a championship. However, in a game of such major importance as this one, even the smallest mistakes at the worst times can hurt you, and it just so happens the team hurt by these mistakes was Ferris and not Valdosta.