The number two seeded Bulldogs began their playoff slate on Saturday in an unfamiliar place: playing in the first round.
For the first time since 2018, Ferris did not get a first-round bye in the playoffs.Despite the unfamiliar situation, Ferris returned to the spot they reached freely over the past three seasons after a dominating 41-7 win over the Davenport Panthers.
Both teams combined for only 232 yards of passing in the contest. Ferris countered using their rushing attack, ranked 11th in the country, finishing with 232 yards on the ground compared to Davenport’s 63.
Inclement weather played a major factor in the game.
“397 games I’ve coached, and I have never had straight days of snow like this,” head coach Tony Annese said. “I was concerned about that being the great equalizer.”
To start the snow-filled, windy game, Annese’s team struck the scorecard first in the contest. Following a 47-yard run by C.J. Jefferson, Mylik Mitchell found Dez Lyburtus on a 19-yard touchdown pass on their second possession. This sparked a plethora of scores throughout the afternoon by second and third-string players, which was a prime example of the team’s preperation, according to Mitchell.
“Throughout the week they got to the point where they were comfortable enough to go out there and make plays,” Mitchell said. “Congrats to them.”
The Bulldog defense continued their strong play through the first 20 minutes, allowing only 69 total yards, four punts and one goal-line interception by Major Dedmond. Davenport finally found the endzone just over halfway through the second quarter following a nine-yard passing score, which took the lead to 7-6.
Ferris’ offense responded in a big way before the half. On the third play of the ensuing drive, Emari O’Brien broke loose on a screen pass for a 52-yard score from Mitchell. Following another defensive stand, the Bulldogs orchestrated a nine-play, 70-yard touchdown drive capped off by Cam Underwood’s 19-yard receiving touchdown with three seconds to go in the half.
At the start of the third quarter, the defense continued to make momentum swinging plays. On a third down near midfield, Vincent Cooley picked off Jason Whittaker’s sideline pass and returned it 67 yards for a touchdown to give the Bulldogs a 27-7 lead.
“It felt great going out there in the second half and setting the tone,” Cooley said.
The offense went stale for the next few minutes, leaving many drives short near midfield. The Bulldogs finally broke the ice at the turn of the fourth quarter, courtesy of a 40-yard catch by Brady Rose and a two-yard rushing touchdown by Mitchell.
“We’ve been in a situation where it has been ‘next man up’ mentality,” Annese said. “A lot of different faces did really good things, and in playoff football, that’s key.”
Ferris found a second rushing score late in the fourth by Jesse Rivera from nine yards out, solidifying the 41-7 win in front of a thousand bold, cold Ferris fans.
Mitchell led the Bulldogs with 155 yards passing and three touchdowns. On the ground, Jefferson fronted the rushing attack with 71 yards, while quarterback Carson Gulker added 44, and James Coby tallied 35. Through the air, O’Brien paced Ferris with a 52 yard catch, followed by Rose with 39 yards on four catches.
Defensively, Cyntell Williams recorded seven tackles and Justin Payoute added six. Jordan Jones registered the lone forced fumble for the Bulldogs along with two tackles for loss. Shaderrick Bradford had one solo sack. Caleb Murphy and Ian Hall split the second Ferris sack. Cooley, in only his second game since Week 5, led with two Bulldog interceptions, and Dedmond had one.
When asked about the stat that stuck out to him, Annese mentioned ball security and physicality.
“No turnovers in these conditions? That’s pretty incredible. Really proud of our guys,” Annese said.
Ferris will now move on to the second round of postseason play, hosting three-seeded Pittsburg State on Nov. 26 at Top Taggart Field. Kickoff time is currently scheduled for 1 p.m.