Big Rapids, Mich. - The Ferris State University football team kicked off a new era and the 104th season of Bulldog action in style Thursday (Aug. 30) night as FSU beat the University of St. Francis (Ill.) by a 35-24 score in non-league play at Joliet Memorial Stadium.
The Bulldogs rolled up 466 yards of total offense en route to the win, which came in the debut for first-year head coach Tony Annese.
St. Francis chewed up the clock for most of the first period, but the Bulldogs struck first on their first offensive play of the 2012 campaign as receiver A.J. McEwen hooked up with sophomore wideout Jake Lampman on a 73-yard scoring strike with 9:19 to go in the frame.
The Fighting Saints, who are ranked 7th nationally in the NAIA National Preseason Coaches Poll, answered with 4:31 to play in the stanza as Anthony Hubert caught a 29-yard TD pass from E.J. White to knot the score.
FSU regained the lead with 3:14 to go in the initial half when redshirt freshman quarterback Jason Vander Laan engineered a 66-yard scoring march and capped the drive with a three-yard keeper.
However, St. Francis tied the game up at 14-14 at the break as Malik Norman found paydirt from two-yards out with only 27 seconds to play in the period.
Ferris State struck quickly and took advantage early in the third period. Senior Skyler Stoker scored on a two-yard run only 1:17 into the frame after FSU marched 45 yards in five plays.
FSU added another TD only a few minutes later when freshman receiver Ryan Taylor scored his first collegiate TD on a 22-yard run to finish a 62-yard drive.
St. Francis pulled within 28-17 at the end of the third period on a 43-yard Sean Murray field goal before FSU put the game away with 3:22 left on Vander Laan's three-yard plunge after an 81-yard drive.
The Fighting Saints added a late TD with only 27 seconds to go when Dustin Greenwell caught a three-yard scoring pass from White in the corner of the endzone.
Stoker ran for 129 yards for the Bulldogs on the ground with Vander Laan adding 103 yards and two scores. He threw for 29 yards on seven-of-10 passing as 364 of FSU's 466 total yards came on the ground. McEwen caught four passes for 14 yards to lead the FSU wideouts.
Meanwhile, White threw for 373 yards and two TD's for St. Francis on 28-of-51 passing, but was intercepted twice. St. Francis also was offset by 12 penalties for 106 total yards. They did convert 14 of 21 times on third down.
Senior Jaime Barrera led the defense with 11 total tackles for the Bulldogs.
FSU will open conference play on the road next Saturday, Sept. 8, as the Bulldogs visit Lake Erie for a 7 p.m. (ET) game in Painesville, Ohio.
The Bulldogs' home opener is on Sept. 15 when they host Ashland in an evening contest also beginning at 7 p.m. (ET) at Top Taggart Field in Big Rapids.
Bulldog Bites: St. Francis dropped to 1-1 overall with the setback in its second game of the year ... The Bulldogs improved to 4-1 all-time versus St. Francis ...... The contest was the first matchup between the two teams since 1998 ..... FSU improved to 45-52-5 all-time in season openers with the win ....... The Bulldogs have now won 15 of their last 24 season openers to date ....... Ferris State unveiled its new uniforms and red helmets in the game .... Ferris State was two-of-three on fourth down conversions.