No. 11 Ferris State ready for crucial GLIAC showdown with No. 7 Ohio Dominican

Bulldogs prepare for road contest against Ohio Dominican in battle of unbeatens

BIG RAPIDS — The Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) doesn’t have a football championship game to crown a conference champion, but this Saturday’s clash between a pair of unbeaten teams in Ferris State and Ohio Dominican could prove to be the closest thing to a championship game this season once all is said and done.

OFF TO THE RACES: Ferris State’s Jahaan Brown (24) pulls away from a group of Tiffin defenders this past Saturday at Top Taggart Field. The 11th-ranked Bulldogs hit the road this week to face seventh-ranked Ohio Dominican in a battle of two undefeated Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) teams. (Pioneer file photo)

OFF TO THE RACES: Ferris State’s Jahaan Brown (24) pulls away from a group of Tiffin defenders this past Saturday at Top Taggart Field. The 11th-ranked Bulldogs hit the road this week to face seventh-ranked Ohio Dominican in a battle of two undefeated Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) teams. (Pioneer file photo)

The seventh-ranked Panthers (6-0, 6-0 GLIAC) won the GLIAC title last season with a 10-1 overall record and 9-0 mark in conference play, but the 11th-ranked Bulldogs (6-0, 5-0 GLIAC) are coming into this game looking to cement themselves as a favorite in the conference title hunt with four games left to play after Saturday’s showdown at ODU’s Panther Field in Columbus, Ohio.

“My worry about our readiness is not as concerning because I know we’ll be ready for this one,” FSU head coach Tony Annese said. “Our focus will be piqued and our preparation will be a little more tuned in.

“We’re excited to be able to play in a situation where the games are more meaningful as the season progresses and it’s just thrilling,” he continued. “That’s why you play and that’s why you coach. That’s why you’re involved in this sport is to play in games like this.”

While both teams will have plenty riding on the results of Saturday’s game, FSU senior defensive back A.J. McEwen said the Bulldogs need to treat this game just like any other game they’ve played so far this season.

“We know it’s a big game and both of us are undefeated, but we just have to treat it like any other game,” he said. “We just need to keep doing what we’ve been doing and know that we can only beat ourselves.”

The game will pit the conference’s best defense and best offense against one another, with the Panthers ranking first in the GLIAC in points allowed (13.8 points per game) and yards allowed (255.8 yards per game) while the Bulldogs are first in points scored (51.3 points per game) and total offense (557.8 yards per game).

It will be tough sledding for the Bulldogs against the stout Panthers defense, but the dynamic run game FSU continues to display with junior redshirt quarterback Jason Vander Laan, who already has run for 656 yards and eight scores this season and has passed for another 18 touchdowns, and the continued rise of redshirt freshman running back Jahaan Brown, who torched Tiffin for 212 yards and four scores in the first quarter of a 68-20 Bulldog victory last weekend, could help to open up some opportunities in the passing game.

That passing game got a boost last week against the Dragons with the return of senior slot receiver Dontae Ingraham, who came back from injury to score two touchdowns, and the Bulldogs’ aerial attack has continued to produce despite players like junior slot receiver Antonio Agurs and senior receiver Jake Lampman still missing time with injuries.

“There’s some guys we’ve been playing a long time without. Since the Grand Valley State game, we haven’t had Agurs or Ingraham and we’ve been without Lampman for quite a long time, too,” Annese said. “It’s a testament to our depth now that we’ve got good players to pop in for good players.

“Ingraham jumps in there the other day and has two touchdowns and (senior running back Jamaal Jackson) didn’t play last week and Jahaan Brown jumps in there and has four touchdowns and more than 200 yards in the first quarter,” he continued. “It’s the next man up mentality and it’s really good when we have players that can go do an effective job and help us win.”

Although the Panthers have the best statistical defense in the conference, the Bulldogs are right there with them as they have the allowed the second-least points (15.3 points per game) and have given up the third-least yards (310.7 yards per game).

That defense will be tasked with stopping an Ohio Dominican offense that’s led by senior quarterback Mike Miller, who has completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 1,499 yards and 13 touchdowns and five interceptions. Joining him in the backfield is the conference’s third-leading rusher in junior running back Brandon Schoen, who is averaging 118.7 yards per game on the ground with eight total touchdowns.

“They’ve got a very efficient offense and they have a quarterback who’s just a great game manager,” Annese said. “It just comes down to who’s going to make the bigger plays and who makes the least amount of mistakes.”

In a matchup of top defenses, McEwen said the Bulldogs are ready to show that they’re the real deal, especially considering they compete against the GLIAC’s best offense every day in practice.

“Offensively and defensively when both sides are clicking, no one can beat us,” McEwen said. “We have the talent and the coaches and the determination, so as long as we keep those things together, we’ll be alright.

“We say it every day our toughest days are in practice when we go against our offense,” he continued. “All of these guys are the best at their position in our league, so it gets all of us better everyday.”

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