Big Second Half Lifts Ferris State Football To First Playoff Win Since 1996!

Big Second Half Lifts Ferris State Football To First Playoff Win Since 1996!

Big Rapids, Mich. - A huge second half lifted the Ferris State University football team to its first NCAA Playoff victory in 19 years as the Bulldogs beat Texas A&M Commerce 48-30 in the opening round of the postseason on Saturday (Nov. 21) at FSU's Top Taggart Field.

After a quick start, the Bulldogs fell behind 16-13 at halftime before tallying 35 second-half points to pull out the win and improve to 11-0 on the year.

With the triumph, second-seeded FSU will advance to the second round and the regional semifinals where the Bulldogs will next host longtime West Michigan archrival Grand Valley State next Saturday (Nov. 28) at noon in Big Rapids.

In Saturday's first-ever matchup against the Lions, Ferris State jumped in front first as senior quarterback Jason Vander Laan engineered an 11-play, 85 yard drive in the first quarter. His 12-yard TD run, which was the first of his five scores in the game, gave the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead midway thru the opening period.

The Bulldog defense forced a pair of early fumbles and FSU later marched 92 yards in 17 plays with Vander Laan finding paydirt from a yard out with 10:27 to go in the opening half. His score gave FSU a 13-0 lead, but the ensuing extra point was blocked and return by Texas A&M Commerce's Diote Taylor for a 98-yard return as the Lions put their first two points on the board.

Following the return, the momentum shifted as the Lions jumped back into the contest quickly. They got the ball back and drove 75 yards in only six plays with Richard Cooper finding the endzone from 12-yards out, cutting the FSU lead to 13-9 with 8:19 to go in the first half.

Soon after, the Lions took advantage of another Bulldog special teams miscue. A bad snap in the wet conditions deep in Bulldog territory was kicked out of play by FSU punter Trevor Bermingham. However, the officals ruled the ball was kicked at the one-yard line rather than inside the goal line, giving the Lions a first down on the doorstep. Three plays later, backup QB Gabe Rodriguez found the endzone on a one-yard carry as the visitors marched into halftime with a three-point lead.

Things changed in the third quarter, though, as the high-powered Bulldog offense came back quickly. After a big return, FSU moved 33 yards in six plays with vander Laan scoring on a five-yard carry to push the Bulldogs back in front early in the third period.

Six minutes later, the Bulldogs needed only four plays to cover 23 yards on the short field as Vander Laan tallied his fourth score on a one-yard keeper. His TD run pushed the advantage to 27-16 in FSU's favor with six minutes to play in the third.

The Bulldog defense then provided a big play as junior linebacker Brady Sheldon stepped in front of a Lions' pass and raced 51 yards to the house on the pick six as FSU pushed its advantage to 34-16 with less than two minutes to go in the third period.

The Lions cut the margin back to 11 points as quarterback Harrison Stewart led a four-play, 52 yard drive that resulted in a 44-yard scoring pass to Hayden Marsh near the end of the third.

Again, though, the Bulldog offense went back to work. Sophomore tailback Jahaan Brown, who ran for a game and season-high 192 yards on 23 carries, broke open a big run down to the TAMUC two-yard line. From there, Vander Laan tallied his fifth and final score on a two-yard burst, giving the Bulldogs a 41-23 edge with six minutes remaining in the game.

Texas A&M Commerce managed to return the kickoff 70 yards for a score with Theo Wofford reaching the endzone. But, the Bulldogs responded again as Brown scored his first TD to cap a big-time playoff performance on a 40-yard sprint with five minutes left and FSU closed the door from there on out.

Behind the offensive play of Vander Laan and Brown, FSU tallied 404 yards of total offense, including 296 yards rushing. Vander Laan added 97 yards on the ground on 29 attempts to go with Brown's 192 yards rushing. In the air, Vander Laan completed 12-of-19 throws for 105 yards.

Senior wideout Jake Lampman led the FSU receivers with three catches for 34 yards in the game. Junior Jamel Lockett and senior Antonio Agurs also both added three catches each.

Defensively, the Bulldogs gave up 354 yards to the Lions' high-potent offense, but they also forced four turnovers in the victory, including the pick six from Sheldon. Texas A&M Commerce, making its first-ever trip to Michigan, ran for only 87 yards on 27 attempts with Stewart throwing for 16-of-38 passes for 267 yards and a score.

The FSU defense was led by junior linebacker Anthony Darkangelo, who had 11 tackles. Sheldon added six stops as did junior linebacker Nick Huckabay. Meanwhile, senior defensive lineman Justin Zimmer totaled five stops, including three tackles for loss and a sack along with a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and three quarterback hurries.

The victory came in FSU's first-ever matchup against a team from Texas or the Lone Star Conference and marked FSU's 26th win in its last 27 games overall. The lone loss came in last year's first game of the NCAA Playoffs to Ohio Dominican, but Ferris State came back in its playoff opener this season to notch its first win since a 1996 first-round triumph.

Ferris State and Grand Valley State will meet for the first-time ever in playoff action next Saturday at Top Taggart Field with the winner advancing to the regional final the following week. Earlier this year, the nationally second-ranked Bulldogs beat the Lakers 61-24 in Allendale. 

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