Big Rapids, Mich. - The Ferris State University football team did its part in keeping any potential NCAA Division II Playoff hopes alive as the Bulldogs wrapped up one of the school's most memorable regular-seasons in recent history by beating Northern Michigan 35-22 on Saturday (Nov. 16) afternoon at FSU's Top Taggart Field.
On a record-setting day, the Bulldogs concluded the regular-season with an 8-3 overall record along with a second-place 8-2 finish in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference's (GLIAC) North Division standings. FSU, which finished the regular-season riding a four-game winning streak, entered the week ranked 10th in the NCAA Division II Super Regional Rankings and needed a win along with some help in order to climb into the top six when the official national playoff bracket is announced on Sunday night.
The Bulldogs' eight-win campaign is the school's first since 2006 and only the second in the program's last 16 seasons dating back to the school's last playoff appearance in 1996. In addition, FSU's eight league victories are its most since 1996 and the four-game winning streak to close the regular-season is the longest to end a campaign since 2001.
Along with the impressive milestones set by virtue of Saturday's win, Ferris State sophomore quarterback Jason Vander Laan may have provided one of the game's most memorable highlights late in the opening quarter. He entered the game needing 88 yards to break the NCAA Division II all-time single season record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a campaign and accomplished the feat in the first period en route to yet another impressive day with 211 yards rushing and three touchdowns. He also threw for 152 yards and a score.
Vander Laan closed the regular-season with 1,607 yards on the ground, which far surpassed the previous national record established by Wofford's Shawn Graves in 1989. His totals helped the Bulldogs compile 384 yards rushing on the day while eclipsing the previous school record for most team rushing yards in a single-season. This year marked the second consecutive year in which FSU broke the record under head coach Tony Annese as Ferris State finished the 2013 regular-season with a program-best 3,491 yards on the ground.
Ferris State's record-breaking day came despite the fact the Wildcats took the game's first lead on a 100-yard kickoff return from Christian Jessie on the opening kickoff of the contest. It marked the second-straight year in which he ran back a kickoff for a score against FSU as he had a 99-yard return for a TD a year ago before the Bulldogs rallied and pulled off a memorable 32-31 win in the regular-season finale by going for two in the final 10 seconds of the contest.
While NMU scored first, the Bulldog offense quickly responded with Vander Laan, who's a Harlon Hill Division II Player of the Year candidate and the nation's leading rushing quarterback regardless of level, at the controls. He engineered an 89-yard scoring drive as Ferris State tied the game up on its first offensive possession with 9:30 remaining in the first quarter on a one-yard Vander Laan scoring run.
However, Northern Michigan answered back only two minutes later as the Wildcast drove 59 yards in six plays to take a 10-7 lead on John Oberheide's 28-yard field goal.
The score stood until a big second quarter gave the Bulldogs a 28-10 halftime lead. FSU surged ahead for good early in the second frame by driving 60 yards in six plays before Vander Laan notched his second scoring run with a two-yard plunge with 12:54 left in the half.
As the Bulldog defense came alive and slowed down the Northern Michigan attack, the offense continued to go to work in the second frame. Vander Laan scored again with 7:55 remaining in the first half from a yard-out after moving FSU 73 yards in only six plays.
The Bulldogs then drove 80 yards in 10 plays near the end of the first half to push the advantage to 18 points at the break on an 16-yard scoring toss from Vander Laan to junior wideout Jake Lampman.
Ferris State's lead grew to 35-10 early in the third quarter when Lampman scored for the second time on a three-yard sweep to cap a 75-yard Bulldog drive in nine plays with 10:53 to go in the stanza.
From there, the Bulldogs coasted to the victory. Northern Michigan used a short field to score to reach the endzone on Keon Collier's seven-yard run late in the third quarter and the Wildcats later took advantage of a big hit on Vander Laan late in the contest, which was scooped up by Adam Nichols who ran it back 48 yards for a score to account for the final margin.
Ferris State totaled 536 yards of total offense, which included 384 on the ground along with 152 in the air. The Bulldogs also converted seven-of-15 times on third down and were five-of-seven in the redzone on the afternoon.
Meanwhile, the Bulldog defense allowed 323 yards, but limited the Wildcats to only 49 rushing yards on 20 tries. Freshman quarterback Shayde Brown completed 17-of-47 throws for NMU for 274 yards, but was intercepted twice by Bulldog senior safety Jamar Wimberly.
In addition to Vander Laan's 211-yard day on the ground, the Bulldogs also received 63 yards from slot receiver Kenya Price along with 38 by Lampman on six carries. Lampman also caught a game-high eight passes for 94 yards with Antonio Agurs grabbing five catches for 46 yards on the Bulldog side. Vander Laan completed 14-of-25 passes with no interceptions.
Defensively, junior tackle Corey Stone paced FSU with seven stops, which included a tackle for loss and a quarterback hurry. Junior linebacker Terrell Porter added six stops and had a sack on the day while Darnell Morris also totaled six tackles.
The Wildcats were led on the defensive side by Nick Krause's game-high 15 stops. Thomas McNamara added 13 tackles and forced a fumble for NMU. Meanwhile, on the offensive end, Jessie had five catches for 104 yards with Kelvin Smarwt making five grabs for 71 yards. Wyatt Jurasin paced NMU on the ground with 38 yards on 13 tries.
Seventeen Ferris State seniors were honored prior to their final home contests at Top Taggart Field as the Bulldogs closed the 2013 regular-season with a victory on Senior Day.