Regional championship revenge

Bulldogs sink Lakers at Lubbers to advance to national semifinal

The Bulldogs got one game closer to the championship in McKinney on Saturday as they took down rival Grand Valley State 24-21 at Allendale for the DII Midwest Super Regional Championship.

It was the second Allendale meeting between the two teams in postseason play since 2016, in which Ferris notched their second win at Lubbers Stadium exactly six years to the date of the first. The win also clinched the Bulldogs’ fourth advancement to the National Semifinal game.

“Guys get to go to practice on Tuesday and meetings on Sunday,” Caleb Murphy said. “That means the world to me.”

Ferris finished the contest with only 260 yards of offense, which was 60 yards less than the Lakers. The Bulldogs began the game with a huge momentum boost, blocking the Lakers opening punt to set up the first offense drive at the Grand Valley three-yard line. One play later, Carson Gulker punched in his 24th rushing touchdown on the season to make the score 7-0 early.

The number one-seeded Lakers responded with a 14-play drive, thanks to two third and one fourth down conversion. However, the Bulldogs stopped Grand Valley thanks to a crucial fourth down pass break up by Sidney McCloud.

Vincent Cooley ended Grand Valley’s next drive with an interception of Cade Peterson. Offensively, the Bulldogs struggled throughout the remainder of the first half, punting on all their drives.

The Lakers took advantage of Ferris’ offensive woes, finding the endzone twice in the second quarter thanks to a combination of outside runs and contested catches. Grand Valley took a 14-7 lead into halftime.

It would take almost nine minutes for either team to find rhythm in the second half. While the Bulldogs only obtained 92 yards in the first 40 minutes of play, Mylik Mitchell and the offense finally broke free thanks to a huge 28-yard, third down scramble by the junior quarterback. Two plays later, Mitchell took it himself for an eight-yard score to tie it at 14 apiece.

Defensively, the Bulldogs continued to slow the Laker offense, holding Peterson to only two completions and 11 passing yards through the entire third quarter. Grand Valley only averaged 3.3 yards per carry, over a yard less than the 4.4 they obtained in the first half.

“In the first half, they got us running the ball a little bit,” head coach Tony Annese said. “Second half, I thought our defense clamped down.”

The Lakers earned great field position at the beginning of the fourth quarter following a Mitchell interception. From two yards out, Laker running back Tariq Reid scored and gave the Lakers a 21-14 advantage.

The Bulldogs bounced back in a big way, orchestrating a 14-play, 53-yard drive with two fourth down conversions. Gulker finished the drive with his second rushing touchdown of the day. Ferris converted the extra point to make it a 21-21 game with 5:48 to go.

Mitchell said the Laker defense did some things that the Bulldogs were able to take advantage of in the fourth quarter, and the offense figured out how to consistently move the ball.

Ferris’ defense forced a Laker punt on the ensuing possession, giving the offense a chance to respond with four minutes to go. The Bulldogs started the drive with two big plays, one 25-yard rush by CJ Jefferson and one 28-yard run by Mitchell. They reached the 10-yard line, but the Laker defense kept the Bulldogs out of the end zone and forced an Eddie Jewett field goal to hold the impending Ferris lead to three.

Following a short kick preventing a long return, Grand Valley started their final drive at their own 45-yard line with just over a minute go and one timeout left. The Lakers converted on third down, but Ferris held Grand Valley to a last second hail mary attempt. Cyntell Williams intercepted the pass in the end zone, clinching the Bulldogs’ fourth consecutive Midwest Regional title.

Mitchell finished 13 of 27 passing for 118 yards passing, along with 16 carries for 87 yards and a touchdown rushing.Jefferson led the Bulldogs in receiving with 38 yards, followed by Brady Rose with 31 and Cam Underwood with 26. Jefferson also added 33 yards rushing.

Justin Payoute led Ferris defensively with 12 total tackles with Murphy registering 10. Konnor Near and Jake Plamondon recorded both of the Bulldog sacks, including Near having nine tackles. Williams and Cooley finished with interceptions while McCloud added two pass break ups.

After reseeding by the NCAA, Ferris will face West Florida in the National Semifinals on Saturday, Dec. 10 at 12 p.m. in Big Rapids at Top Taggart field. The Bulldogs last faced the Argonauts in 2019, who defeated Ferris 28-14 en route to their first DII National Championship.