Ferris State falls to Valdosta State 49-47 in D2 National Championship Game thriller

Ferris State wide receiver Keyondre Craig had three catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns. (Photo: Rose Baca, Associated Press)

MCKINNEY, TX — “Football is a game of inches and inches make the champion.”
Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi’s words rang true at the expense of the Ferris State football team on Saturday night. After a Sy Barnett touchdown run cut Ferris State’s deficit to 49-47 with 40 seconds remaining, Barnett’s double-reverse pass on the ensuing two-point conversion attempt sailed an inch too high for the outstretched hands of receiver Keyondre Craig.
The conversion failed. The game was effectively over.
The Blazers bested the Bulldogs 49-47 in a Division II National Championship thriller players, coaches, and fans will remember for a long time.
“It’s been an incredible experience,” head coach Tony Annese said. “Give Valdosta State all the credit in the world. It’s a tough pill to swallow. I thought it would be us. I had no doubts with the trust I have in this team. Valdosta just played great, we couldn’t get them off the field. Both quarterbacks were unbelievable. If anyone wants to market an ESPN feature, you just did an incredible job.
“It’s our first loss of the year. That’s all it takes. That one day.”
“We felt confident in our offense all game,” Dion Earls said regarding the final drive. “We had a great game plan. We knew once we got the ball back we could drive it down. We were just one play short.”
A shootout was inevitable. Both Ferris State and Valdosta State entered the championship game with two of the best offenses in the nation with two of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Jayru Campbell and Rogan Wells.
The Blazers outgained the Bulldogs in yards 496-449, with Valdosta having the advantage in passing yards (374-179) and Ferris in rushing (270-122)
The Bulldogs offense started the game with a double pass that Jevon Shaw threw to Craig for a championship-record 80-yard touchdown catch to go up 7-0 in the first quarter.
After missing a field goal on their opening drive, the Blazers scored touchdowns on their next seven possessions of the game and didn’t punt until the fourth quarter.
“They did a real good job on third down,” Ferris defensive end Austin Edwards said. “The quarterback had a quick release and he was getting the ball off. They’re two points better than us. We get a couple of plays off, it’s different.”
The two teams traded touchdowns throughout the game, with Valdosta State taking a 28-24 lead into halftime. The Valdosta State defense was able to contain Campbell and the Ferris State passing game. A third-quarter Campbell interception resulted in a Valdosta State touchdown that gave the Blazers a 42-31 lead to make it a two-score game. The Bulldogs responded with one of the wildest plays in championship game history as Craig catches a ball the defensive player batted back in bounds for a touchdown to make it 42-38 with 1:40 to go in the third.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Ferris slot Dion Earls said of The Catch. “I was grateful to be on the field for it.”
Jayru Campbell completed 10 of 18 passes for 99 yards, one touchdown pass, and one interception while carrying the ball 22 times for 122 yards and one touchdown. Earls had five rushes for 67 yards and Marvin Campbell, Devante Harrington, and Barnett added touchdown runs.
Craig had 89 yards receiving and two touchdowns and Harrington had three catches for 39 yards.
Austin Edwards and DeShaun Thrower tallied eight tackles apiece to lead the defense.
Harlon Hill finalist Rogan Wells played the game of his life for Valdosta State, completing 19 of 31 passes for 349 yards and five touchdowns and added a 25-yard touchdown catch for good measure. Jamar Thompkins tallied 16 carries for 72 yards and Lio’undre Gallimore had four catches for 111 yards and two touchdowns.
The Bulldogs (15-1) finish the season with a school-record 15 wins and earned their third GLIAC championship in five seasons. Ferris returns several key players from this year’s group, so don’t rule out another title run in 2019.
“I’m proud of them for coming back and not giving up and for their good sportsmanship,” Ferris fan Liz Buss said after the game.
“I’ve said it all along,” Annese concluded. “They’ve internalized our mission. They never give in. They never quit. We don’t have games, ever, where we feel we’re down. That’s who we are. Even in this game, we’re very proud of these guys. We love each other. It’s a big part of who we are.”

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