By Cody Carlson
Big Rapids, Mich. - The undefeated and nationally top five-ranked Ferris State University football team returned home Saturday (Nov. 1) to open a two-game homestand and won a track meet against the inspired Lake Erie Storm as the Bulldogs recorded a high-scoring 66-56 triumph at Top Taggart Field.
The two teams tallied more than 1,400 combined yards as both squads netted more than 700 yards apiece. However, FSU prevailed to keep its perfect record intact and officially break a school record with its nation-leading 13th-straight win dating back to last season.
It marked the second-straight year in which the two teams have battled to the end in a shootout at Top Taggart Field on the heels of last year's 56-49 FSU win in Big Rapids.
"It was a track meet out there and fortunately our guys pulled it out in the end," said FSU head coach Tony Annese. "A lot of credit goes to Lake Erie as they came in ready to play, but hopefully we also learned an important lesson as well that will serve us well as we move forward."
After back-to-back road contests against then unbeaten and top 15-ranked squads in Ohio Dominican and Michigan Tech, it was Lake Erie which gave the Bulldogs their toughest test of the season to date. The Storm cut a three-score FSU lead down to three at 45-42 with 8:51 to play before the Bulldogs came up with some pivotal offensive plays fueled by standout junior quarterback and Harlon Hill Trophy candidate Jason Vander Laan.
Ferris State moved one step closer to a potential GLIAC Championship by improving to 9-0 overall and 8-0 in league play.
The Storm got on the board first as they scored on their initial drive of the afternoon. A 76-yard completion set up a 11-yard touchdown reception for Demarco Rojas from quarterback Mitchel Hokavar to put the Storm up 7-0 only 1:12 into the contest.
Like the Storm, though, the Bulldogs would score quickly on their first drive of the game. It was senior running back Jamaal Jackson that found the end zone on a 10-yard touchdown scamper to tie things up at seven with 12:14 left in the first stanza. FSU covered 77 yards in only four plays and 94 seconds in its first drive of the contest.
Shortly after, FSU senior defensive end Carlton Johnson picked off a deflected pass to set up the Bulldogs on their second scoring drive of the day. Vander Laan found sophomore slot Jamel Lockett for a 43-yard touchdown reception to give the Bulldogs a 14-7 lead slightly more than five minutes into the game.
The Bulldogs would punch in one more score before the end of the first quarter on a 6-yard touchdown run by Vander Laan. The seven-play, 71-yard scoring drive pushed the Bulldogs lead to 21-7 after the initial quarter.
Following the Vander Laan scoring run, Ferris State redshirt freshman Ato Condelee got the ball back for the Bulldogs as he recorded FSU's second interception of the afternoon.
However, the Storm put points back on the scoreboard with just under 10 minutes to play in the first half. This time it was wideout Aaron Lindgren who found the end zone on a 9-yard touchdown reception on Hokavar's second TD pass of the day. The score cut the Bulldogs lead to 21-14 five minutes into the second quarter and finished a six-play, 63-yard Lake Erie march.
Vander Laan led a 10-play, 81-yard Bulldog scoring drive to push the lead back up to two scores with 5:51 remaining in the opening half. The drive was capped off by Jackson's one-yard touchdown run up the middle for his second rushing TD of the first half.
Lake Erie would duplicate the Bulldogs' scoring drive on their next possession as they drove 77 yards in 11 plays to trim the margin back to seven. A six-yard touchdown run by Anthony Bilal cut the Bulldogs' lead to 28-21 with just under two minutes left in the first half.
Ferris State turned to its two-minute offense and moved the ball back inside the Lake Erie five-yard line, but a Vander Laan pass was intercepted by Storm defensive back Stacy Woodford to end the first half as the Bulldogs took a 28-21 lead into the break.
In the second half, Vander Laan found a familiar target on the opening drive to push the Bulldog lead to 35-21 less than four minutes into the frame. It was sophomore receiver Shakur Sanders who caught the Vander Laan pass for a five-yard touchdown, which was his seventh receiving touchdown of the season.
After getting the ball back following a defensive stop, Jackson burst into the endzone on a one-yard run to push the Bulldogs' lead to 42-21 with seven minutes to go in the third. It was the third rushing score of the game for the senior tailback and finished a five-play, 83-yard FSU drive.
However, the Storm would bounce back with a touchdown of their own to cut the Ferris State lead to 42-28. The nation's leading rusher in Bilal found the end zone on a one-yard rush up the middle with just under five minutes to play in the third quarter to cap a seven-play, 75-yard Storm scoring drive.
But, the Bulldogs added to their lead as the fourth quarter began when redshirt freshman Mitch Bredberg connected on a 38-yard field goal. The field goal pushed the Bulldogs' lead to 45-28 with 14:56 remaining.
Striking quickly, though, the Storm scored on the opening play on their next drive. Michigan native Shane Van Fleteren scored on a 85-yard touchdown reception from Hokavar to cut the Bulldogs' lead to 45-35. The catch and run came on a controversial play in which FSU thought offensive pass interference was going to be called only to find the Bulldogs whistled for the defensive penalty, which was declined.
Lake Erie got the ball back and once again Hokavar found Van Fleteren for the score, this time on a 13-yard touchdown connection. The TD throw trimmed the Bulldogs' lead to 45-42 with slightly less than nine minutes to play.
With only a three-point lead, the Bulldogs let their All-American take over, as Vander Laan raced down the sideline for a 48-yard touchdown run. The 48-yard scamper pushed the Bulldogs' advantage back to 10 points at 52-42 with 7:32 to go in the contest.
On the ensuing drive, the FSU defense came up with a huge forth down stop to set up Ferris State's next score of the game. This time Vander Laan hooked up with senior wide receiver Phil Annese for a three-yard touchdown strike to give FSU a 59-42 edge.
The Storm continued to hang around as Hokavar found Tyler Lindgren for a 12-yard touchdown throw. Hokavar's fifth touchdown pass of the game cut the Bulldogs' margin to 59-49 with only 1:50 to play.
Shortly after, Vander Laan found the end zone one more time from 28-yards out to put the Bulldogs up 66-49 on the scoreboard. The Storm would score one more time, but FSU held on and came out victorious with the shootout win at Top Taggart Field.
Offensively, it was Vander Laan who led the Bulldogs with the big day. He finished the game with 499 yards of total offense with 284 of those coming on the ground. He also had three rushing touchdowns to go along with three passing touchdowns and completed 13-of-15 throws for 215 yards overall.
Vander Laan set a new school mark with 499 yards of total offense and his 284 rushing yards represents the most-ever rushing yards in a single-game for a quarterback in GLIAC history.
Jackson also added three touchdowns on the ground for the undefeated Bulldogs while redshirt freshman Jahaan Brown added 95 rushing yards and Lockett caught three balls for 68 yards overall.
The Storm were paced by Bilal, who ran for 193 yards and two touchdowns. Hokavar completed 28 of his 44 passes for 392 yards and a school-record six touchdown passes. Van Fleteren had six catches for 135 yards and two scores while Tyler Lindgren totaled eight grabs for 137 yards and one TD. Aaron Lindgren added four catches for 29 yards and two touchdowns.
The high scoring affair between the Bulldogs and Storm ended with both teams finishing with over 700-yards of total offense. Lake Erie tallied 708 yards on 97 plays with FSU managing 706 yards on 76 plays.
FSU compiled a total of 491 rushing yards on 61 attempts and threw for 215 yards while Lake Erie had a more balanced attack with 316 yards on the ground in comparison to 392 thru the air.
Defensively, the Bulldogs were led by senior linebacker Darnell Morris, who had a game-high 16 tackles. Sophomore linebacker Anthony Darkangelo added 15 tackles, with a tackle for loss. Johnson and Condelee both had first-half interceptions.
The Storm were led defensively by Isaiah Wheeler, who finished with 14 tackles, and also a sack. Tanner Wells added 13 stops.
The win was FSU's fifth victory against Lake Erie as FSU moved to 5-0 all-time versus the Storm in a series dating back to 2010.
The 706 yards of total offense by the Bulldogs represented the third time this year in which FSU has generated 700-plus total yards while the 66 total points marked the third time as well in which Ferris State has scored 66 or more points this campaign.
Ferris State's nine wins to date this year are its most since recording a 10-2 record en route to its last NCAA Playoff appearance back in 1996.
The Bulldogs, who were ranked number one in four national online computer polls last week and among the top five overall in six different D2 polls, are first in the NCAA Division II Super Region Four Rankings which will help determine the playoff selections at the end of the regular-season.
FSU will continue its quest for its first GLIAC Championship since 1999 at home next week as the Bulldogs host Northern Michigan on Saturday (Nov. 8) for Senior Day at Top Taggart Field. FSU then closes the regular-season at Walsh on Nov. 15.
Tickets for next Saturday's game are on sale and can be purchased in advance at StarTickets.com or by calling 800-585-3737. For more information, please visit FerrisStateBulldogs.com