In their fourth matchup against the Bearcats since 2016, Ferris State football defeated Northwest Missouri State for the third time by a score of 41-20.
“I guess we are regional champs,” Coach Annese said during the postgame press conference. “When I saw the draw of top five top teams in the nation being in our region, it was extraordinarily scary. It’s a testament to the young men I coach and how they continue to compete.”
On the opening possession, Northwest Missouri St. looked to flip their poor rushing performance against Harding with two opening rush attempts. The Bulldogs were not fooled, stuffing the Bearcats both times and forcing an incompletion to give the offense to football via a deep punt.
Due to an injury to starting quarterback Jared Bernhardt, sophomore Mylik Mitchell began under center for Ferris State. Despite a first-play fumble, Mitchell used a 31-yard pass to Xavier Wade and a 13-yard run to reach the Bearcats’ 13-yard line. On the ensuing play, it was QB Evan Cummins who used a draw play up the middle to score the game’s opening touchdown.
Facing an early deficit, Northwest Missouri looked to get back in the game via third down conversions. On the opening third down and six, Northwest Missouri quarterback Braden Wright found Trevon Alexander for a gain of 65 yards. Although the Bulldogs got a big sack from defensive lineman Jordan Jones, the Bearcats were able to score on a third down completion to Jamar Moya. The Bearcats would go on to miss the extra point attempt, giving Ferris State a 7-6 lead.
The Bulldogs came into the contest with 143 penalty yards in playoff play. Through the first quarter, Ferris State accrued four penalties including two false starts on their second drive. This did not stop the Bulldogs from breaking their second big play of the afternoon with a 36-yard scramble by Mitchell to give the ‘Dawgs an eight-point advantage.
“(My) confidence level stays pretty high,” Mitchell said regarding his big game mindset. “We’ve got coaches that put us in great positions and teammates that their job.”
Following a pair of punts, the Bearcats made their first big mistake on the afternoon. Looking to pitch to his running back, Wright’s toss went behind McKeller and was recovered by the Bulldogs’ Alex Bock at the 23-yard line.
With momentum, the Bulldogs looked to take a shot to endzone. On first down, a persistent pass rush finally got to Mylik Mitchell and did knock the ball out. Fortunately, the Bulldogs recovered and were able capitalize on the next play on a beautiful tip-toe grab by Xavier Wade in the endzone. A botched snap did scrap the PAT attempt, setting the score at 20-6.
After an answering rushing touchdown by the Bearcats, both offenses stalled for the next five minutes. With just over five minutes to go in the half, Mitchell and the Bulldog unit began to march down the field using a strong short passing attack. With just under a minute to go, Mitchell shook off a hard hit and found the endzone to complete the 11 play, 58 yard scoring drive.
“I got a text from Jared (Bernhardt) after the game,” Coach Annese said. “He was talking about how well Mylik played. (Mylik’s) a great young man and his unselfishness allows teams to flourish.”
The Bearcats would try to go for the endzone before the half, but an interception by Caleb Smith would cement the ‘Dawgs enter the locker room leading 27-13.
Coming into the final 30 minutes of play, both defenses came out with lots of pressure. Each teams’ initial possession resulted in a sack and punt. The Bulldogs would strike the board first in half number two, courtesy of a pile-pushing run from junior tailback Jeremy Burrell.
Ranked in the top-30 of DII football in sacks, Caleb Murphy has always had a major impact on the game. His moment came early in quarter number three. On a Braden Wright drop back, Murphy stripped the ball out of the QB’s hands and gave the Bulldog offense the ball back with Olalere Oladipo’s recovery.
The offense would end up being stopped on the ensuing possession, putting the defense back out onto the field. Northwest Missouri began to pick up chunk plays and move the ball near midfield. Facing a fourth down, Wright broke loose and reached the three-yard line. With their backs against the wall, the ‘Dawgs held strong and stuffed the Bearcats on four downs to force the turnover.
“Northwest has a great defense, but we wanted to be considered a great defense too,” Major Dedmond said. “We came up with that mentality and had another week to prove that.”
After an injury knocked him out of the final regular season game, Tyler Minor hadn’t received as many carries in the postseason. Lucky for the ‘Dawgs, all he needed was his fifth carry to break loose and rile up the crowd on an 84-yard, fourth quarter house call. Barnett’s extra point extended the lead to 41-13.
The Bulldogs would force another fumble later in the fourth quarter, which led to an opportunity for a field goal attempt by Barnett. Unfortunately, the Bearcats deflected the kick wide right and would score a late touchdown to cut the deficit to 21.
For the Northwest Missouri State, the damage had been done and the Bulldogs would run out the clock to secure their fourth super regional title in five seasons. When asked about the opportunity to move on in his first season with Ferris, Dedmond said it has been a happy adjustment.
“It is definitely new to me. I’m blessed to have this opportunity and be in a position to be going to the semi-finals.”
Ferris’ offense finished with 413 yards of total offense, including 245 yards on the ground. Minor led the charge with 99 yards on seven carries, followed by Mitchell with 81 yards on 16 carries. Evan Cummins, Jeremy Burrell, and Minor all added a score with Mitchell adding two. Michell finished with 155 yards on 12-19 passing, including his tenth passing touchdown on the year. Xavier Wade led the ‘Dawgs with 51 receiving yards and a touchdown, followed by Taylor with 5 catches for 47 yards and Jefferson with 41 yards on three grabs.
The defense was led by Cyntell Williams with seven tackles, followed by Caleb Smith with six and Liam Daly and Sam Girodat each adding five. Smith recorded the ‘Dawgs 17th interception on the season. Caleb Murphy and Sidney McCloud each forced a fumble with Alex Bock recovering two. Jordan Jones tallied one and a half sacks with Murphy adding two tackles for loss.
“I thought we took advantage of opportunities when we had them,” Coach Annese said following the game. “Our guys played really hard and it was a complete victory.”
After an official reseeding following Saturday’s results, the Bulldogs are slated to host their second national semi-final against Shepherd (W.Va.) next Sat. at 3:30. For tickets and game information, visit www.ferrisstatebulldogs.com.