Caleb Murphy breaks sack record

Football beats Pittsburgh State on the back of Murphy's strong defensive performance

Caleb Murphy sacks Chad Dodson Jr. in Ferris’ 17-14 victory over Pittsburgh State. Murphy recorded six sacks and set the new NCAA single-season sack record with 24.5, breaking Terrell Suggs’ record of 24, which has stood since 2002. Photo courtesy of Ferris Athletics.

Caleb Murphy now stands alone at the top of the NCAA record book.

In Ferris’ 17-14 victory over Pittsburgh State in the Super Region 3 semifinals, Murphy recorded six sacks. That bumped his season total up to 24.5, a new NCAA single-season record across all divisions.

The former record was held by Terrell Suggs of Arizona State. He recorded 24 sacks in 2002.

“The record is cool,” Murphy said. “It’s something I was shooting for once I got pretty close.”

Ferris held Pittsburg State to only 217 yards of total offense. Despite the defensive success, Ferris struggled offensively. They committed five turnovers in the game and allowed the Gorillas to keep it close.

“Pitt State is as gritty as gritty can be,” head coach Tony Annese said. “[I’m] proud of my guys and the fight they had. There was a lot of adversity we faced.”

The Bulldog offense started out the game red hot, scoring on their first possession virtue of a nine-play, 78-yard drive. GLIAC freshman of the year Carson Gulker capped it off with a two-yard rushing touchdown on a crucial fourth-and-goal.

While the defense continued their strong, dominant play from last week, forcing an early three-and-out and a turnover on downs, two Ferris fumbles gave the Gorillas big opportunities to answer from the Bulldog side of the field. The defense stood strong and stuffed Pittsburg State, thanks to a pair of crucial sacks by Murphy and Olarere Oladipo, allowing only one yard on seven plays and forcing a missed field goal. Murphy’s afternoon wouldn’t stop there, as he finished the contest with six sacks to break the NCAA single season sack record across all divisions.

Ferris’ offense found its big playmaking on the ensuing possession. From their own 31-yard line, Mylik Mitchell found Brady Rose wide open on a deep seam in which he outran the Gorilla secondary for the Bulldogs’ second score before the end of the first quarter.

Both teams gave opposing offenses fits in the second quarter, including an interception returned for a touchdown by the Gorillas with 1:53 to go before the half. The Bulldogs got a field goal attempt late before halftime, but it was blocked by the Gorillas to keep the score at 14-7. Excluding punts and penalties, only 20 out of 42 second quarter would result in positive yardage for either team.

The second half didn’t begin as desired for the Bulldogs, beginning with a third fumble, second interception and third punt. In response, the defense took a stand and prevented the Gorillas’ first two possessions with a goal line interception by Jacarvis Alexandre and a sack on fourth and goal from Murphy. Pittsburg State responded with a touchdown on the third drive of the half, tying the game at 14 following a nine-yard rushing touchdown.

“You can only overcome it truthfully with a good defense,” Annese said on the offensive turnovers.

Momentum continued to swing back and forth throughout the rest of the contest. Both teams were held to only a few big plays at a time, and penalties and long conferences by the officials made the half feel even slower and longer than the first.

At the 12:30 mark in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs finally got the short pass game going with big completions to CJ Jefferson and Tyrese Hunt-Thompson. The Bulldogs reached the three-yard line but were stalled to a field goal by the Gorilla defense.

With a 17-14 lead, both defenses clamped down to force punts and fourth down turnovers until the final drive. Pittsburg State began to move the ball through the passing game, including two huge fourth down conversions. They reached the Bulldogs’ 14-yard line with 40 seconds to go but were denied on a missed field goal with three seconds to go.

When asked on the redzone defensive success, Oladipo mentioned it was the team’s tenacity to send a message.

“It was our ‘want to’ at the end of the day,” Oladipo said. “[Our] guys wanted to dominate and send a message to the nation.”

Ferris finished with 387 yards of offense, their third lowest total on the season. Mitchell paced the air attack with 286 yards on 24 completions for the Bulldogs. Hunt-Thompson was the leading receiver with 122 yards on six catches, followed by Rose with 84 yards on five receptions and Jefferson with 68 yards on eight grabs. Marcus Taylor led in rushing with 13 carries for 59 yards, followed by Mitchell with 33 yards on nine carries. Eddie Jewett finished one of two on field goal attempts along with a perfect tow of two on extra points.

The Bulldog defense held Pittsburg State to only 217 yards of offense on the contest, including only 40 yards rushing. Murphy registered 10 tackles, including seven for loss, and six sacks. Konnor Near and Sidney McCloud followed with eight and six tackles, respectively. Ian Hall added 1.5 sacks, Oladipo added one and Jordan Jones had 0.5. Alexandre recorded the only Bulldog takeaway with his third quarter interception.

Ferris now moves on to the Midwest Regional Championship game, where they will have a rematch with the number one seed Grand Valley in Allendale. The game is slated for a 1 p.m. kickoff at Lubbers Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 3.