FSU football set to host Ohio Dominican in playoff showdown

Bulldogs will face Panthers in NCAA Division II regional semis on Saturday

BIG RAPIDS — At the conclusion of a 34-19 statement road victory for the Ferris State football team over Ohio Dominican on Oct. 18, the Panther players and coaches told the Bulldogs in the handshake line they’d be seeing them again when the postseason came around.

LEADING THE WAY: Ferris State quarterback Jason Vander Laan (right) looks for running room against Ohio Dominican in Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) action earlier this season. Vander Laan and the Bulldogs will take on Ohio Dominican again on Saturday at noon at Top Taggart Field in an NCAA Division II playoff contest. (Courtesy photo/Kevin McDermott)

LEADING THE WAY: Ferris State quarterback Jason Vander Laan (right) looks for running room against Ohio Dominican in Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) action earlier this season. Vander Laan and the Bulldogs will take on Ohio Dominican again on Saturday at noon at Top Taggart Field in an NCAA Division II playoff contest. (Courtesy photo/Kevin McDermott)

That prediction came true last Saturday after the Panthers (10-1) dispatched Colorado School of Mines, 34-23, in the first round of the NCAA Division II playoffs to set up a rematch with the Bulldogs (11-0) this Saturday in the regional semifinals at Top Taggart Field after the Bulldogs had a first-round bye last weekend as the top seed in the region.

“I guess we kind of expected it,” FSU junior quarterback Jason Vander Laan said. “After we beat them down at ODU, we were shaking hands and everyone was saying, ‘We’ll see you in the playoffs.’ We knew with their remaining schedule after we beat them that they were probably going to win out and there was a very likely chance we were going to play each other.

“We weren’t certain of it, but we were kind of looking forward to it because it was a fun game and now here we are.”

The win against ODU on Oct. 18, which broke the Panthers’ 21-game regular season winning streak, was one of many tests during the Bulldogs’ first 11-0 regular season in school history and the program’s first playoff berth since 1996 as they had to overcome some adversity late in the season to keep that perfect record intact.

After lopsided wins over the Panthers and Michigan Tech on the road, the Bulldogs survived a 66-56 scare against Lake Erie before overcoming their first halftime deficit of the season to pull out a 35-17 win over Northern Michigan before erasing an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter against Walsh to snag a 46-42 victory to cap off an undefeated regular season.

While it was stressful for the Bulldogs down the stretch, FSU head coach Tony Annese said those tight contests helped prepare the Bulldogs for whatever adversity they’ll face in the playoffs.

“It’s a movie script is what it is,” Annese said. “Not to over-dramatize it, but we sat there and I told the guys after the Lake Erie game, ‘I think the football gods have said Ferris State is going to win this thing, but they’re going to have to earn it.’

“Northern Michigan was the same way and Walsh it was almost like a perfect ending of challenges that we faced to win that (conference title) and win it outright and to go undefeated at 11-0. They were huge challenges and we rose to the occasion under a lot of duress. There’s a lot you can learn from persevering and hopefully it brings us confidence.”

The Bulldogs are hoping to keep adding to that script with a victory this Saturday after getting a bye week to put a little pep back in their step.

“It just seems like it’s been forever since we played our last game, but it was a nice resting week,” FSU junior defensive end Justin Zimmer said. “I felt a lot more fresh this week compared to normal. It helped us come out and have some really good practices this week.”

Ferris State comes into the game with the best offense in the nation in Division II, averaging 533.5 yards per game and ranking second in points scored (47.8 ppg) and fourth in rushing offense (334.5 ypg).

But they’ll be without redshirt freshman running back Jahaan Brown, who is out for the season with a foot injury after averaging 113 all-purpose yards per game this season, and senior center Justin Glover is questionable as he is still dealing with a leg injury.

That offense will face a stiff test against an ODU defense that ranks 11th in the nation in points allowed (16.7 ppg) and a Panther offense that will have junior running back Brandon Schoen back in the lineup after he missed the previous matchup against the Bulldogs with an injury.

Schoen ran for 1,089 yards and 10 touchdowns despite missing two games and is coming off a 112-yard, two touchdown performance on the ground last weekend against Colorado School of Mines.

“They were a very physical and sound defense and probably one of the most sound defenses we played this season,” Vander Laan said. “You just gotta pick up on little tendencies on what they’re going to do and when they’re going to do it.

“We have to learn from our mistakes and correct ourselves, but it definitely gives you an advantage when you’re playing a team twice and seeing how they already matched up against you earlier in the year.”

The Bulldogs’ undefeated season included a perfect run at home at Top Taggart Field, a streak they aim to keep alive.

“Every Saturday is so much different,” Annese said. “It’s different at the pro level, it’s different at the collegiate level and it’s different at the high school level. It’s still a game and there’s a lot of mystery in the game and that’s why I think people love the game so much.

“We’re just hoping that we are the best version of us that we can be and that’s all we can focus on at this point.”

Saturday’s game is scheduled for a noon kickoff and tickets are still available. Ticket prices are $10 for adults, $7 for senior citizens (age 65-plus) along with $5 for students in grades K-12. Children ages five and under are free.

Fans can purchase tickets online 24 hours a day, seven days a week at www.StarTickets.com or call (800) 585-3737. Tickets may also be purchased in person at the FSU Athletics Ticket Office located inside the Ewigleben Sports Complex from noon to 6 p.m. today.

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