After over a month away from Big Rapids, the Bulldogs welcomed fans back to Top Taggart Saturday the same way they left them: a dominant victory.
Ferris defeated the Wildcats 44-24 despite not playing their cleanest game of the season.
“I don’t think our three units played at their best today,” head coach Tony Annese said regarding the win. “All in all, it’s good to have a ‘W’.”
The Bulldogs started the game on the defensive side of the football, where they stopped the Wildcat offense thanks to a tackle for loss from linebacker Liam Daly and a second-down sack by defensive end Caleb Murphy.
On their opening offensive drive, the Bulldogs wasted no time driving down the field. In just about three minutes, Tyler Minor and Jared Bernhardt moved Ferris State 73 yards using the ground attack. Two plays later, Evan Cummins completed the drive with a one-yard opening touchdown.
“Our line was getting really good push,” Bernhardt said about the rushing game. “Minor and Burrell were getting some really good yardage.”
Northern Michigan’s second possession brought an unexpected turn to the game. On second down, Wildcat running back DJ Stewart appeared to be brought down near the Ferris sideline for a short gain. To the entire stadium’s surprise, Stewart stayed on his feet and rumbled down to the Bulldog four-yard line. Despite the change in momentum, Ferris’s defense held their own and forced Northern Michigan to a field goal.
Following a pair of punts from both teams, Ferris began to move the ball down the field with the run game once again. At the Wildcat 32-yard-line, Bernhardt took off up the middle on a quarterback draw. The senior QB broke multiple tackles past the first down marker looking for a touchdown. As Bernhardt was hit near the 14-yard line, the football came loose and was recovered by Northern Michigan for the game’s first fumble recovery.
The Wildcats took over looking to capitalize on the Bulldog turnover. After a pass interference call against Ferris and quarterback runs from Drake Davis, Northern Michigan faced a fourth-and-one at their own 38-yard line. Head coach Kyle Nystrom took a gamble and decided to go for it. Despite their proven success using the QB sneak, the Bulldog front led by Jordan Jones stuffed Davis for a loss and a turnover on downs.
“They are a great quarterback sneak team,” Annese said. “Getting that penetration and making that stop was a huge play.”
On the ensuing play, Bernhardt took a deep shot downfield and found Brandon Childress for a 34-yard completion. Bernhardt would punch it in on the next play with a four-yard run, making the score 14-3.
The Bulldogs’ defense remained strong through the half, including an interception from Daly and a combined three sacks. Bernhardt would continue his huge game on the ground, finding the endzone for the second time on the ground with 3:44 to go in the half. Ferris would enter the locker room holding a 20-3 advantage.
Northern Michigan came out aggressive in the second half. Following a pair of key open-field tackles, Wildcat defensive back Brady Hanson intercepted Bernhardt’s third-down pass for their third takeaway of the game. Unfortunately for Northern, a pair of intentional grounding penalties stalled the drive and forced a punt.
“We just had to move forward,” Bernhardt said regarding the turnovers. “Guys are looking at you to lead them down the field.”
Division II’s number one scoring offense got back on track on the next drive. With the help of C.J. Jefferson, Marcus Taylor, and Jeremy Burrell, the Bulldog offense marched 77 yards on nine plays to reach the three-yard line. It was Bernhardt again receiving the honors of breaking the plane and scoring Ferris’s fourth touchdown of the game.
Struggles continued upfront for Northern Michigan. Sophomore Major Dedmond and Daly pushed the Wildcats backward for two negative yardage plays, leading to an incompletion and their fifth punt of the contest. Ferris followed with a 32-yard pass to Xavier Wade and a 28-yard run from Bernhardt but had to settle for a 29-yard field goal from Sy Barnett.
“I believe when our defense is ‘locked in’, no one can score on us,” Murphy said.