BIG RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Mistakes and miscues ultimately proved to be too much for Ferris State, as West Florida defeated the Bulldogs 28-14 in the Division II semifinal game at Top Taggart Field.
The Bulldogs totaled six turnovers, three of them coming on fumbles in the fourth quarter when the team owned a 14-10 lead. Each of the fumbles led to demoralizing touchdowns.
“We picked a very bad time to play our very worst game,” said head coach Tony Annese. “On offense, if we play that way any of our last three games we lose. Very disappointed by that, lousy coaching by the head coach. For me, very disappointed I can’t get these guys on my left and right more, it completely and utterly bums me out. These guys deserve more than what we gave them today.”
To open the game, the Argos could do no wrong. Austin Reed rolled out to his left, gave a few pump fakes and delivered a perfect ball to the front pylon of the end zone. Tate Lehtio was there to snag it for a 34-yard touchdown, and UWF had the early advantage.
The Bulldogs would grind their way back into it, however. Following a key late hit on the Argos on a third and long that kept the drive moving, Tyler Minor took care of the rest. He capped off multiple gashes through the UWF defensive front with a six-yard touchdown to tie the score. The drive totaled 61 yards on 11 plays.
In the second quarter, neither offense could finish a drive.
The Argos moved the ball inside the Bulldogs’ 10-yard line after eight plays, but Reed was intercepted by Delon Stephenson. Late in the first half, the Bulldogs were nearing midfield, but Russell was intercepted on a deep ball, which essentially put an end to any scoring threats.
The Bulldogs senior quarterback was just 2-of-9 for 12 yards with a pair of interceptions at halftime. His team totaled 135 yards but was outgained by UWF, who has 205 yards.
The statline was nearly even outside of the yardage totals in the opening 30 minutes. It was a question of which team would break out of it in the second half.
The Bulldogs gave a convincing opening statement.
Dion Earls found a huge gap in the Argos defensive line, running free for 30 yards down to the UWF 23. Then after a couple of tough runs by Russell to get another first down, Earls finished off the drive with an 11-yard gut-punching run, carrying defenders with him over the goal line.
Just like that, FSU had its first lead of the game at 14-7 with 12:10 left in the third quarter. The defense forced a three-and-out for the Bulldogs. Everything seemed to be going in FSU’s favor.
That is until a self-inflicted decision led to points for the Argos. Annese and company elected to go with a fake punt that UWF sniffed out and shut down, giving them the ball on the FSU 48. It gave the Argos a short field and led to a 21-yard field goal from Austin Williams.
“I called a fake punt and that was a stupid call,” Annese said. “Every call that doesn’t work, I say it was my fault.”
On the ensuing FSU drive, Russell delivered a beautiful ball for a 28-yard completion, but Xavier Wade fumbled it when reaching for the goal line out of the back of the end zone. It resulted in a touchback and a major break for the Argos.
UWF worked their way down inside the red zone of the Bulldogs again after Ka’Ron Ashley made a circus catch for 18 yards. However, the Bulldogs stood tall once again, forcing another Williams field goal to make it 14-13.
Then, the biggest mistake of the evening happened at the worst time possible for the Bulldogs.
Earls fumbled on a stretch play on the first down of the following drive, giving UWF the ball back and another chance to score from the FSU 18. This time, the Argos didn’t miss.
Reed scanned the field, with nothing much open, and elected to throw it to his top-target Tate Lahtio in the back of the end zone. The wideout reached through the defensive backs’ hands and snatched the ball for the 18-yard score. Lahtio would catch the two-point conversion as well, making it 21-14 Argos.
For the first time since the opening drive of the second half, FSU needed a spark. Instead, they continued to make mistakes.
Russell motioned his slot man Earls and snapped the ball as he ran past the center, leading to the ball going off Earls’ arm and into the hands of UWF. Just a couple plays later, Quentin Randolph wound up with a six-yard score from Reed.
The 14-point deficit was too much for the Bulldogs to overcome with just 6:59 remaining in the game. Russell finally got the offense moving into Argos’ territory, only to see another fumble turn it over. Russell committed the mistake this time on a quarterback keeper.
“I felt like we had a good grasp on winning the game in the third quarter, but it turned so quick,” Annese said. “That’s the brutality of the game. Every coach sits in front of a microphone trying to explain it to reporters, but sometimes you just can’t.”
For the game, the Bulldogs could only muster up 123 passing yards. Russell’s final game as a Bulldog resulted in 12-of-26 with no scores and two interceptions. The Bulldogs did win the ground battle, rushing for 255 yards to just 67 for UWF.
Overall, UWF totaled 366 yards while FSU had 378, yet the turnovers allowed the Argos to have a short field time and time again.
“You’re going to look for the couple of things today that made us play bad, but it was really just the mistakes,” offensive lineman Tyler Allison said. “That’s the part that really hurts. Last year leaving Valdosta, I felt like we left everything out there that we had. Right now, I still feel like I could play another quarter. It just hurts.”
The Argos will now travel to McKinney, Texas for the Division II National Championship Game with a start time to be decided.