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Big Rapids, Mich. - Despite chilly weather conditions and snow flurries at times, the Ferris State University football team provided fans with plenty of reason for optimism as the Bulldogs held their annual "Crimson & Gold" Spring Game on Saturday (April 20) at FSU's Top Taggart Field.
The white team, which was led by current special teams coordinator and longtime legendary prep head coach Jack Schugars, rolled to a 50-14 victory over the red team in the modified scoring system.
Schugars' white squad forced four turnovers and scored twice defensively while compiling nine first downs along with two scoring drives en route to the victory. The red team, which was guided by volunteer assistant coach Bart Estola, also totaled nine first downs but could not find the endzone.
Teams were split into two units and the game was played primarily under normal operating rules with additional points awarded for first downs by the offensive along with turnovers on the defensive side. A running clock was utilized for each 20-minute quarter.
It marked the second-straight year in which Schugars and Estola squared off as the game's head coaches with Schguars' squad able to even the series following Estola's exciting 68-64 win a year ago.
"The weather conditions were quite challenging, but we had a good day and it was an opportunity to get our guys out there and be successful", said FSU head coach Tony Annese. "Our defense was able to knock the ball loose and make some plays, which will be critical to our success.
"Overall, I was pleased with the effort and we came out healthy for the most part so that is great to see," he said.
The white team set the tone early by forcing a turnover on the game's opening possession and eventually reaching the endzone for the game's first score on a six-yard TD run by tailback Kitwana Clark with 16:12 to play in the first frame. They quickly pushed their advantage to 21-3 soon after when redshirt freshman Jalen Couch returned an interception 47-yards for a score on a pick six midway thru the period.
Schugars' white team led 24-3 at the end of the opening stanza and came up with their third defensive turnover early in the second quarter when defensive back Sean O'Brien intercepted a pass and raced nearly 60 yards into the red team's redzone.
However, the red defense held and its offensive unit moved the football nearly the length of the field with five consecutive first downs late in the second quarter before the drive stalled and time expired with the white holding a 27-9 advantage at the break.
After a brief halftime break, the red squad picked up right where it left off early in the third period as defensive tackle Donovan Carter stripped a would-be ball carrier and rambled 30 yards for a score to push the lead to 37-9.
The red team trimmed the margin to 38-12 by notching its first defensive pick in the final quarter, but the white team's defensive unit came up with a stop and the offense put together one of the game's longest drives with five first downs before quarterback Taylor Masiewicz hooked up with wideout Aubrey Parrish on an 18-yard touchdown pass near the end of the game.
"Taylor had a good day and was poised with good command of the game," Annese said. "We're in a good place this spring. I think we've developed better depth than we had a year ago and have been able to expand some of our systems. It's been a challenging spring weather-wise, but our guys have adapted and made great progress."
Several players saw limited action or did not dress as the Bulldog coaching staff used the opportunity to give nearly everyone a number of repititions in the contest.
Perhaps the day's biggest highlight came at the end of the first quarter when both teams gathered near midfield to watch head coach Tony Annese add the game's biggest star to the team in Keegan Bulk, a young cancer survivor who became an official member of the Bulldog family thru the Team IMPACT program.
Ferris State also honored two "Bulldogs" as longtime Gridiron Club President and alum Bill Scheible along with national champion runner Anna Rudd of the FSU women's track and field squad served as the game's honorary captains during the coin toss.
The Crimson & Gold Spring Game continued FSU's official spring practice season, which started March 22 and will include 15 workouts per NCAA regulations by the time spring drills wrap up this coming week.
This year's Crimson & Gold Spring game followed the annual "Big Event", an important citywide cleanup initiative that involved student organizations. Nearly 2,000 students participated in the effort to help clean up close to 300 residences in the community.
Members of the Bulldog Football team also participated in the "Big Event" cleanup effort prior to the annual spring game. The Big Event impacts hundreds of community members in the city of Big Rapids and its surrounding area. As the largest student-run community service effort in the nation, The Big Event is a one-of-a-kind volunteer effort that unifies the campus with the surrounding community in a showing of gratitude through philanthropy.
The contest also capped off a memorable offseason for the Bulldogs, which saw Ferris State ink what has been called the nation's top recruiting class by several sources on National Signing Day in February and the recent appointment of new defensive coordinator and former Western Michigan assistant coach Lou Esposito.
The Bulldogs also provided plenty of reason for optimism in Annese's first season at the helm last fall as they posted seven wins for only the second time in the past decade, beat archrival Grand Valley State for the first time since 1999, broke a 10-year losing streak to divisional rival Michigan Tech and recorded a key road win over defending national runner-up Wayne State.
Ferris State is tentatively slated to open the 2013 campaign at home against the Lake Erie Storm on Saturday, Sept. 14. Game time is to be announced at Top Taggart Field.