After a season-ending loss in the 2019 national semifinals, the Bulldogs got their revenge against the West Florida Argonauts by virtue of a 38-17 victory. The Bulldogs will now travel to McKinney, Texas, for their third national championship game in the last four years.
“I’ve got to pinch myself. [This] is the most proud I have ever been for a team,” head football coach Tony Annese said. “We had our 43-game win streak and lost, but we went back to work, hung together and now we’re playing for a national championship.”
Ferris used over 300 yards on the ground to pound West Florida’s 110th-ranked rushing defense. The 309-yard effort was the second largest on the season, trailing only their 330 yards in Week 11 at Wayne State.
The afternoon began on the opening drive, where the Bulldogs used a heavy dose of Mylik Mitchell and Carson Gulker quarterback runs. Ferris pushed the ball 66 yards on 12 plays to reach the three-yard line, which led to one of Gulker’s three touchdown conversions on the day.
West Florida responded with a long drive following a 35-yard completion but were held to a 23-yard field goal after being stuffed on three plays inside the 10. Marcus Taylor carried the team down the field on the ensuing possession, picking up 43 yards by himself to give Gulker a prime position to seal his second rushing touchdown on the day and extend the lead to 14-3.
“The [offensive line] opened it up for me,” Taylor said on his performance. “When I get to the second level, it’s a wrap.”
Behind possessions filled with pressure, Ferris’ defense forced two straight West Florida punts, however, the Argonauts got it right on the third after scoring on a 58-yard pass, thanks to blown coverage in the Bulldog secondary. West Florida added another touchdown on a fourth down, 10-yard run following an earlier Ferris field goal. Both teams headed into the half with the score knotted up at 17 apiece.
“They did a really nice job running the ball against us,” Annese said. “Nobody’s really ran the ball against us effectively, but early in the game they really tried to establish the run.”
The Argonauts began with the ball to start the third, where they drove all the way down to the Ferris 34-yard line. Similar to the Grand Valley game, the defense made a stand to deny West Florida any points on a fourth down stop. Ferris started the second half with a much more balanced offense, using the short passing attack along with ground game. The Bulldogs began to spread the Argonaut defense and move the ball back into the redzone, finishing the drive with a three-yard run by Dez Lyburtus.
The first turnover of the contest came with 1:16 to go in the third, where the Bulldogs got the takeaway on a Caleb Murphy strip sack recovered by Travis Miracle. Ferris remained dominant throughout the rest of the contest — only allowing 83 total yards to the Argonauts in the second half.
When asked about the key to shutting down West Florida’s rushing attack, Olalere Oladipo mentioned staying focused on the assignment.
“It was having good gap integrity and not getting knocked off the ball,” Oladipo said.
While they faced a 3rd and 12 on the next possession, the Bulldogs converted, thanks to a CJ Jefferson catch for 24 yards to reach the one-yard line. Then Gulker completed his touchdown hat trick, punching in his third rushing touchdown to extend the lead to 31-17.
West Florida tried to extend their playoff hopes with fourth down conversions, including a fake punt on their next possession, but came up empty. Taylor added a nine-yard rushing score, sealing the 38-17 victory in the Bulldogs’ final home contest of 2022.
The Argonauts came into the game with four takeaways against Wingate in the regional title game, but were held to zero, thanks to a collective, clean Ferris offense.
“Minus three games where we have had multiple turnovers, we’ve been pretty good,” Annese said.
When it comes to stats, Taylor stands out. The senior received 20 carries and piled on 181 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Gulker followed behind with 64 yards on 18 rushes and three scores. Jefferson led the Bulldogs in receiving with 51 yards on five catches, while Mitchell paced the passing attack with 87 yards on eight of nine completions.
Major Dedmond led the Bulldogs with 12 tackles, five of them coming in the solo category. Konner Near followed behind with six, and Sidney McCloud and Cyntell Williams added five stops each. Oladipo led the team with two sacks and 2.5 tackles per loss, and Murphy forced the lone fumble for the Bulldog defense, which was recovered by Miracle.
Ferris will now advance to the national championship game to face Colorado School of Mines, the team who Valdosta State beat last year to reach the title game. Gametime is slated for 1 p.m. EST at McKinney ISD Stadium. The game will be aired on ESPNU and will have live radio coverage on Sunny 97.3 FM.