COLUMN: Even not at his best, Vander Laan comes up big

SCRAMBLE: Ferris State University quarterback Jason Vander Laan (right) scrambles for yardage against Northwood University on Saturday. Vander Laan passed for 320 yards and two touchdowns, and also rushed for 158 yards and a score. (Pioneer photo/Ryan Zuke)

SCRAMBLE: Ferris State University quarterback Jason Vander Laan (right) scrambles for yardage against Northwood University on Saturday. Vander Laan passed for 320 yards and two touchdowns, and also rushed for 158 yards and a score. (Pioneer photo/Ryan Zuke)

BIG RAPIDS — Ferris State University quarterback Jason Vander Laan did not complete a pass in his first four attempts Saturday in the Bulldogs’ 40-3 season-opening win against Northwood.

Fast forward to the end of 60 minutes and last year’s Harlon Hill Trophy winner’s line read: 20 of 37 passing for 320 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He also rushed for 158 yards and a score.

After the game, though, Vander Laan was the first to admit his stat line might have been a bit misleading.

He overthrew several open receivers, which could have resulted in a few more big plays.

“A lot of times, I’m hard on myself, but there were some guys I just really shouldn’t of overthrown,” he said. “It stinks, but I’m going to go watch film — maybe it’s my stride or my base when I’m throwing it — but it kind of stinks I missed those guys, because in close games, I have to be able to hit them.

“But it’s Week 1 and we played pretty decent overall. I think we’re going to learn a lot over film and find areas we can improve on still.”

His 54 percent completion percentage Saturday isn’t flashy, especially since he was at 66.5 percent last season, but he was yet again the most effective player on the field.

With the size of a tight end (6-foot-4, 244 pounds) and the speed of a running back, Vander Laan always will keep defenses honest, even when his accuracy is slightly off.

The Bulldogs’ offense is most effective when Vander Laan is throwing short passes to his talented wide receivers and letting them use their speed to pick up yards after the catch.

Junior Jamel Lockett and senior Antonio Agurs broke several big plays after receptions, and each finished with more than 90 yards receiving.

“Those guys are awesome,” Vander Laan said. “Our slots and our receivers, half the time, I’ll just throw a 1-yard pass on a bubble (screen) and they are going to turn it into a 50-yard touchdown. And that can happen every play with those guys. They love blocking for each other. They are some of the hardest workers on the team, some of the most unselfish guys, and they can make good plays when they have the ball in their hands.”

The Timberwolves’ defense continued to move more coverage to the outside, and Vander Laan capitalized.

Midway through the third quarter, Vander Laan rushed 48 yards on a quarterback keeper up the middle and marched into the end zone untouched for a 30-3 lead.

On the previous drive, Vander Laan stepped up in the pocket on fourth-and-9 on the Timberwolves’ 28 to avoid pressure and scrambled for a 19-yard gain.

Vander Laan said his throwing mechanics were a little bit off Saturday, but if he continues to make plays with his legs, the Bulldogs’ offense still will continue to roll.

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Posted by Ryan Zuke

Ryan is the sports editor for the Big Rapids Pioneer, covering local prep sports and Ferris State athletics. He can be contacted at (231) 592-8363 or rzuke@pioneergroup.com.

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