FSU knocks off 18th-ranked Chargers

BIG RAPIDS — One of the things Ferris State’s football team pointed to as a rallying cry prior to this season was finishing strong in close games.

A 20-17 comeback win against No. 18 Hillsdale in the season opener on Friday at Top Taggart was a pretty good start, as the Bulldogs used a powerful ground attack in the second half to capture a huge win for a Ferris State program coming off two-consecutive losing seasons.

“I think this says a lot about the character of this team,” Ferris State coach Jeff Pierce said. “We didn’t finish strong late in games last season and we kept that on our shoulder all offseason.”

STANDING TALL: Ferris State quarterback Tom Schneider delivers a pass during his team's 20-17 win over Hillsdale on Friday at Top Taggart Field. (Pioneer photo/Martin Slagter)

After the Bulldogs’ offense began to sputter in the second quarter against the Chargers, the game appeared to be slipping away. Hillsdale had scored 17 unanswered points to take a 17-7 lead in the third quarter.

The Bulldogs found themselves, however, on a critical drive capped off by a 11-yard Skylar Stoker touchdown run to cut the lead to 17-13. Stoker also had a run of 42 yards on the drive to set up the score.

The junior running back was the hero for the Bulldogs in what some consider an upset, rushing for 162 yards on 16 carries, including two touchdowns.

Stoker said Ferris State came out re-energized in the second half and used momentum to take over the game.

“We weren’t really having a lot of luck with any of the plays we were running (in the second quarter),” he said. “We just re-juiced. The offensive line really picked it up, I did my best to pick it up and we just gave it all we had.”

After Stoker and the Bulldogs’ offense had gotten momentum back on its side in the third quarter, the defense stepped up its game, making critical stops in holding Hillsdale scoreless in the fourth quarter.

The Bulldogs’ Jordan Morgan recovered a fumble after Hillsdale was driving to score late in the third quarter and intercepted another pass to keep the Chargers off the scoreboard.

Hillsdale coach Keith Otterbein credited the Bulldogs for their inspired play in the second half, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

“Give their line and their running backs credit, they played well and deserved to win,” he said. “A lot of that was execution on their part, but we also didn’t tackle very well.”

The first half was mostly Hillsdale’s, as the Chargers began to wear down Ferris State’s defense with its power running game. The Chargers were led by Joe Glendening, the GLIAC’s leading rusher a season ago, who had 153 yards on 29 carries.

After Ferris State took the opening drive 62 yards, capped off by a 2-yard touchdown run by Tom Schneider, Hillsdale began to force the Bulldogs into some three-and-outs as well as a pair of missed field goals, allowing them to control time of possession. Hillsdale finished the game with 36:02 in time of possession to Ferris’ 23:58.

The Chargers would score a pair of touchdowns in the second quarter to take momentum into the locker room, on 1-yard touchdown runs by Cam White and Glendening.

Pierce said he was happy that his team didn’t let the Chargers’ momentum carry over into the second half.

“We didn’t let down because things weren’t going exactly like we wanted them to,” he said. “We saw (Friday’s) game as an opportunity to test ourselves against a good football team, and we’re not too bad ourselves.”

Following Stoker’s first touchdown run, Ferris State put together its biggest drive of the game, going 75 yards in 10 plays, which was concluded on a 9-yard touchdown run by Stoker on a reverse.

Stoker lined up in the slot on the play and took the ball around the left side of the line into the endzone to give Ferris a 20-17 lead with 13:07 remaining.

The play left the Hillsdale defense confused, but Stoker said he wouldn’t describe it as trickery.

“We don’t really call them trick plays, because we run them all the time,” he said. “I couldn’t really hear the snap count, and they blitzed. The O-line blocked it perfectly and I basically went in there untouched.”

Ferris State went the rest of the way making defensive stops and controlling the ball on the ground. The Bulldogs finished with 286 yards on the ground, averaging 6.7 yards per carry.

The win gives Ferris State some confidence moving forward, quarterback Tom Schneider said, but didn’t come as a huge surprise to him or his teammates.

“If anything it gives us more confidence because of the fact that we didn’t play very well,” he said. “I think our confidence has always been there. There wasn’t anybody doubting that we would win this game.”

Pierce echoed Schneider’s assessment.

“To be honest I don’t care about rankings,” he said. “The big thing is we needed to get a win under our belt and we did it fighting through a little adversity.”

Ferris State (1-0) will hit the road next Saturday to take on Saginaw Valley.

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