GREG BUCKNER: Ferris State football’s undefeated season will go down in history

Completing a regular season with a perfect record is a monumental accomplishment for any athletic team, no matter what sport it is.

The Ferris State football team achieved just that Saturday after rallying back from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to claim a 46-42 victory over Walsh in Canton, Ohio, securing the first 11-0 regular season in school history, the first undefeated regular season since 1995 and the team’s first outright Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) title since 1996.

Following the excitement of Saturday’s victory, the Bulldogs officially got word Sunday afternoon when the selection show for the NCAA Division II football tournament was telecast that they had also earned the program’s first playoff berth since 1996, being selected as the No. 1 seed in the Super Regional Four to earn FSU a first-round bye and a home playoff game in the second round of the playoffs.

RUNNING ROOM: Ferris State’s Jamel Lockett runs in the open field during a 46-42 victory against Walsh in the Bulldogs’ regular-season finale on Saturday in Canton, Ohio. With the win, the Bulldogs completed the first 11-0 regular season in school history, in addition to winning their first outright GLIAC title since 1996 and earning their first playoff berth since 1996. (Courtesy photo/Kevin McDermott)

RUNNING ROOM: Ferris State’s Jamel Lockett runs in the open field during a 46-42 victory against Walsh in the Bulldogs’ regular-season finale on Saturday in Canton, Ohio. With the win, the Bulldogs completed the first 11-0 regular season in school history, in addition to winning their first outright GLIAC title since 1996 and earning their first playoff berth since 1996. (Courtesy photo/Kevin McDermott)

Now, I could take you back into the time machine and list a bunch of things that were popular in 1996 to illustrate how long it’s been since the Bulldogs reached the playoffs (Spice Girls! Will Smith fighting aliens in “Independence Day!” Jennifer Aniston’s hair!), but it’s safe to say the 2014 season will go down as one of the most important seasons in all of FSU athletics history.

The Bulldogs kept their unblemished record intact through 11 games and they did it in dominating fashion, scoring 40 points or more in all but four games this season.

They have arguably the best player in Division II (and the entire country, perhaps…) in junior quarterback Jason Vander Laan, who has demolished the record books and has almost too many accolades to list as one of the front runners for this year’s Harlon Hill Trophy for the best college football player in Division II.

Vander Laan led the top-ranked offense in Division II (533.5 yards per game) with almost surgical precision for most of the season until running into a little trouble in the last few games of the season. But he was picked up by an opportunistic defense that made the big plays when it counted all season and a special teams unit that picked up its play as the season went on.

Much of the attention all season deservedly went to Vander Laan and the Bulldogs’ explosive offense, but an 11-0 regular season is truly a team accomplishment that every member of the program has a hand in.

Whether it was the three-turnover performance by the Bulldog defense in a pivotal 34-19 victory in a top-10 matchup against Ohio Dominican on Oct. 18, or it was Vander Laan’s fourth-quarter comebacks in the Bulldogs’ last three victories, Ferris State has proved it can win in a myriad of ways, showing the maturity the team has developed over the last three season’s under head coach Tony Annese.

Players have openly talked about the difference in the way the program is run under Annese compared to previous regimes, consistently pointing to a “me-first” attitude by players that had previously poisoned the program that is no longer present.

The word “brotherhood” gets tossed out a little too frequently by coaches and players, but this is truly a team of brothers who play for one another. While plenty of the praise goes to the players for truly buying into what Annese is selling, Annese has done a great job of changing the culture of the program from one that was happy to just stay close to rival Grand Valley State to one that expects to win every time it takes the field.

Some might have thought that a 7-4 overall record in Annese’s first season in 2012 was a team that had overachieved, but he kept the forward progress going with an 8-3 mark in his second season last year to send the Bulldogs into the 2014 season with the hype machine set to 11 based on the firepower they had coming back.

In Annese’s first two years, the Bulldogs might have snuck up on some teams, but there was no sneaking up this season as they got everybody’s best shot, which makes this season’s 11-0 mark that much more impressive.

The nation also has started to take notice of Ferris State, with someone holding a “We want Ferris State” sign during ESPN’s College Gameday show at the University of Alabama for this past Saturday’s Alabama vs. Mississippi State game.

While we might not get the Ferris vs. Alabama game those fans want to see, fans in Big Rapids need to realize that they have one of the best teams in the nation right in their own backyard.

So make sure you take the time to go see the Bulldogs on Thanksgiving weekend when they host the winner of this weekend’s game between Colorado School of Mines and Ohio Dominican.

Otherwise, you might have to wait another 18 years before a team like this is playing at Top Taggart Field this late into the season.

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