On Sept. 23, 2017, the Bulldogs traveled to Ashland. That was the last time Ferris football lost a regular season game.
The nationally top-ranked Ferris State Bulldogs traveled to Hickory, North Carolina to face Lenoir-Rhyne on Saturday, Sept. 10 with 39 straight regular season wins. The Bears became their 40th.
The Bulldogs triumphed through the early season test and came out with a 27-5 victory. Big performances from junior defensive end Caleb Murphy (five sacks) and freshman quarterback Carson Gulker (three rushing touchdowns) propelled the Bulldogs to victory.
However, the offense struggled to find success at the start of the game. An injury for junior quarterback Mylik Mitchell caused him to miss this game entirely, meaning the offensive responsibilities were handed to senior Evan Cummins and Gulker.
Although the offense started slow, a lockdown defensive effort held the Bears to only 94-yards of total offense. Ferris also registered seven sacks, two influential third-quarter turnovers and several tackles for loss. With one of the best defensive performances that the Bulldogs have shown in the past few seasons, the team lengthened their regular season win streak to an even 40 games.
Head coach Tony Annese credited his defensive players after the game, but made sure to get back to work through the week.
“We had to grind out some things,” Annese said. “Some bad things that happened to us early, but one consistent thing was that our defense was stellar all game. Totally dominant. From the D-line, to the linebackers, to the secondary, just a really good performance by the defense.”
Of their seven quarterback sacks, five of them came from one player. Murphy found himself at home in the backfield of LRU’s offense, quickly becoming the impact player of the game. The pressure led to a stagnant run game for the bears, only producing 16-yards the whole game. The scoring opened up on the first-drive of the game. Ferris was backed deep into their own territory and was forced to punt, but a high snap made the ball wobble its way into the back of the endzone. The safety gave a quick 2-0 lead to the Bears at 13:44.
A slow and rainy first-quarter finished with some excitement with a 75-yard deep slant pass to Xavier Wade from Cummins.
“I thought [Lenoir-Rhyne’s] defense really played hard. I thought their team, for the most part, [is] very disciplined and work very hard,” Annese said. “I’m just proud that our guys showed the heart that they showed. To have the slow start and to have it end resoundingly.”
Lenoir Rhyne opened the second quarter by marching down the field in a lengthy drive. But before they could punch their ticket to the endzone, a strong defensive push forced the Bears to settle for a field goal. LRU’s kicker, Johnathan Medlin, drilled the 36-yarder to bring the game within two at 10:44 in the second quarter.
Despite the lack of production in the first quarter, after the Lenoir-Rhyne field goal it was all Ferris State. At 4:34 in the second quarter, Gulker fought his way into the end zone for a two-yard rushing touchdown, bringing the score to 13-5. It would stay the same when the teams headed to the locker room, with the game still in reach for the Bears.
The scoring both ramped up and ended in the third quarter. Gulker scrambled another 10-yards at 6:27 to lengthen the lead by two scores for the Bulldogs. He recorded the hat trick with his third touchdown shortly after a Murphy sack forced a fumble deep in Lenoir-Rhyne territory, and leaving him with only one yard to push his way through with 1:30 left in the third quarter.
“Offensively we got a lot of younger guys playing, so [I’m] very pleased,” Annese said.
Both teams were scoreless in the fourth quarter, but the final horn left the Bulldogs with a 27-5 victory in Hickory. The three quarterbacks for Ferris, Cummins, Gulker and sophomore Jesse Rivera, combined for 300-yards of total offense. 15 different Bulldog players recorded a rushing attempt.
Murphy led the team in tackles and tackles for loss (12 and 6, respectively), leading to 38 yards lost for LRU. Major Dedmond and Jordan Jones joined the party with one sack a piece. Dedmond had four tackles and Jones had three.
On 56 plays, Ferris’ defense allowed less than 100 yards in total offense, an average of only 0.5 yards per play.
The compelling win sends the team into the bye week with ample time to recover and recuperate for when Waldorf comes to Top Taggart on Sept. 24 for Ferris’ homecoming celebration.