Football claims conference championship

Bulldogs beat Wayne State for third straight GLIAC title

On a special day honoring the 2021 senior class, the Bulldogs delivered with a 35-13 win over Wayne State in their final regular season game. As result, the team sealed their fourth GLIAC regular season title under head coach Tony Annese.

“I’m so proud of this team and this coaching staff,” Annese said. “For us to go undefeated in the regular season for the fifth time in seven years is insanity.”

While the Bulldogs were able to claim the title and an undefeated 9-0 regular season record, it didn’t come easily. On the opening possession of the contest, the Bulldogs were denied from the scoreboard due to three Warrior stops near the goal line and a missed field goal from Sy Barnett. The defense returned the stand and forced a punt thanks to two tackles from senior linebacker Liam Daly.

As typical Michigan weather fares in November, changes came in bunches. After a dry first possession, the following drive for both teams were met with windy sleet. As a result, multiple slips on the turf and errant throws led to both teams trading punts.

“We haven’t been in the rain hardly at all,” Annese said. “It’s good for us to be in the inclement weather and hopefully today’s experience will help us for the playoffs.”

The Bulldog offense found their first big plays of the game with just over four minutes to go in the quarter. Facing a third-and-one near midfield, quarterback Jared Bernhardt broke through the first set of tacklers to gain 22 yards. Unfortunately for Ferris State, a pair of fumbles stifled the possession and led to a turnover on downs.

For the Warrior offense, their first scoring drive came through the success via the deep pass. Quarterback Jake AmRhein’s combined for 54 yards passing on the possession, including a 16-yard completion on a crucial fourth-and-11. Wayne State eventually punched into the endzone with 10:29 to go in the half courtesy of a Kendall Williams three-yard touchdown run. Ferris State did create some intrigue on the point after, as the Warriors’ kick was blocked and returned by Adrian Petty. Unfortunately for Ferris, Petty was stopped short of the 20-yard line and were held without points

Fumbles certainly were a factor for the Bulldog offense, as they finished the contest with two giveaways. Their first fumble came on the fourth possession, where CJ Jefferson was stripped from behind after what would have been a 34-yard run. After the corresponding Wayne State punt, the Bulldogs pushed the ball near the edge of the redzone late in the half. On first down from the 22 yard-line, Bernhardt dropped the ball on an attempt to hand it off to running back Tyler Minor. Wayne State’s defense recovered and possession flipped back to the GLIAC foe.

“I don’t think the weather was the issue,” Minor said. “We just had poor ball control and were not tucking it away well enough in traffic.”

While the ball security continued to be a concern due to the weather, the Bulldogs went to a familiar offensive style that favors rushing without the use of a handoff: the option. Bernhardt and tailback Tyler Minor moved the ball inside the redzone using a series of designed tosses and QB runs. Later in the drive, Minor was able to endzone and give the Bulldogs 7-6 lead before halftime.

While many fans were worried at halftime, head coach Tony Annese wasn’t fazed by the low scoring.

“People always talk about what happens in the locker room at halftime. I just wanted to make sure our guys were confident and know we are only one half away.”

On the opening drive of the second half, Ferris State showed rejuvenated confidence by holding the Warriors to negative six yards thanks to a stout effort from the defensive line. Off the Wayne State short punt, the Bulldogs used only two and a half minutes and six plays to run for 46 yards and a touchdown via Bernhardt.

As the 13th best team in Division II in passing defense efficiency, the Bulldogs were finally able to get their first takeaway early in the 3rd quarter. Facing a 2nd and 10 from their own 45, AmRhein’s pass was deflected and intercepted by Caleb Murphy. The sophomore defensive end advanced the ball to the Wayne State 19-yard line off the return.

“The guys played well up front,” Daly said on the defensive performance. “The aggression was great and we had some great plays.”

Three plays later, Ferris State scored on Bernhardt’s 15th rushing touchdown of the season.

From there, the pace of play down through the rest of the third quarter. Both teams traded unsportsmanlike penalties and punts over eight scoreless minutes of football. With 13:59 to go in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs broke the silence and scored touchdown number four on a 5-yard rush from Bernhardt.

While the running game was the dominant factor in the contest, Ferris still proved they can have success through the air. On the next possession following Wayne’s ninth punt of the game, C.J. Jefferson caught a screen pass and outran multiple Warrior defenders on his way to a 52-yard touchdown, giving the ‘Dawgs a 35-6 lead late in the fourth.

While Wayne would score six minutes later, the damage was already done and the trophy was being prepared. As the final 0:00 hit the game clock, the video board a few feet above read “GLIAC CHAMPS” to symbolize a goal checked off the list. For Coach Annese, winning after a cancelled season made the moment even more special.

“I’ve been a head coach for over 35 years,” Annese said. “This is one of the best things I’ve seen a team do.”

The Bulldogs finished with 554 yards of total offense, their fifth game reaching over 500 yards. Bernhardt led the rushing attack with 176 yards on 24 carries, including three touchdowns. The senior also added 75 yards passing and one TD. Minor added 106 yards rushing and a score with Jeremy Burrell adding 49 yards on seven touches. C.J. Jefferson tallied 125 scrimmage yards and a touchdown.

Ferris’s defense held the Warriors to 195 total yards, including a 14% 3rd down conversion rate. Daly led the Bulldogs with eight total tackles, two of them going for a loss. Murphy and John Higgins contributed five tackles with Murphy adding the third quarter interception. Major Dedmond complied three additional tackles and two hits on the quarterback.

For the seniors on the 2021 roster, this would be their last regular season game at Top Taggart Field. One of those seniors, Tyler Minor, said he will remember the relationships of Ferris Football the most.

“With all the long road trips, team bonding, and good people brought into my life, I will miss that brotherhood.”

Thanks to their undefeated regular season, the Bulldogs drew a #1 seed and a bye for Round 1 of the NCAA Division II Football Playoffs. They will face the winner of #4 seed Grand Valley State and Lindenwood on Nov. 27th at Top Taggart Field. Kickoff is slated for 1 P.M.