BIG RAPIDS — Turnovers.
It’s the one word which adequately describes what cost No. 2 Ferris State a chance to win Saturday’s NCAA Division II semifinal home game against West Florida.
It’s also the main reason the Bulldogs lost and won’t be playing in Saturday’s national title game
The Argos scored 21 unanswered points in the second half to take the 28-14 win.
Ferris had six turnovers but four fumbles in the second half were very costly. One cost Ferris from adding to its lead in third quarter. Two more led to UWF touchdowns in the second half. The fourth stymied the Bulldogs who were driving late in the fourth and trying to get back in the game.
Ferris, which had been 27-1 the past two years, ended its season at 12-1, two wins shy of realizing their dream of a national title.
“We picked a very bad time to play our worse game,” Bulldog coach Tony Annese said. “West Florida earned their way through this. It’s tough. On offense if we play that way any of our last three games, we lose. I’m very disappointed on that. It completely bums me out. I’m very emotional. These guys deserved more than what we gave them today.”
“We both fought for 60 minutes, we knew it would be a difficult football game,” UWF coach Pete Shinnick said. “Our guys continue to believe in each other. I couldn’t be prouder on how we handled adversity.”
It was 7-7 at halftime but Ferris opened the second half with a 67-yard drive on seven plays. Dion Earls scored from 11 yards out at 12:10 for the touchdown and 14-7 lead.
Quarterback Austin Reed avoided a sack and hit a screen pass to Jervon Newton for a first down to the Bulldog six. The Argos had to settle for a 21-yard Austin Williams field goal.
Ferris started driving down the field but had a key turnover when Xavier Wade caught the Travis Russell pass at the 5-yardline, was tackled and fumbled the ball into the end zone, with the ball coming loose before hitting his knee to the ground, for a UWF touchback.
Later in the quarter, Ferris went for a fake punt at midfield and UWF held and took over at the Bulldog 48.
UEF went on a drive and Reed scrambled for a first down to the 29. Ka’Ron Ashley caught a wildly tipped pass at the Ferris 10. It set up a 25-yard field goal by Williams with 10:59 to play for a 14-13 score.
The Argos then recovered an Earls fumble at the Ferris 16. Two plays later Reed passed 18 yards to Lehtio for the touchdown. The same combination worked for the two-point play and a 21-14 UWF lead with 10 minutes to play.
On Ferris’ next drive, the snap hit Earls’ leg while he was in motion in the shot gun formation and UWF recovered.
Reed passed 6 yards to Quentin Randolph for the touchdown and 28-14 lead with 6:59 to play.
“It is a brutal game, man, a brutal game,” Annese said. “We’re down to their 1-yard to potentially make it 21-10. I haven’t seen the play. I was confident we’d have the ball at the one and we were calling the next play. They were saying Xavier fumbled the ball. It’s a margin of error. You get that, and it’s 21-10 at right at the end of the third quarter.”
To open the game the Argonauts came out strong offensively early. They drove from the opening kickoff 75 yards on eight plays with Tate Lehtio catching a 34-yard scoring pass from Austin Reed.
The Bulldogs later in the quarter recovered what they thought was a fumble on a UWF punt return but didn’t get the call.
But later in the quarter, Ferris drove 61 yards on 11 plays with Tyler Minor bolting in from 6 yards away for a 7-7 tie.
UWF drove deep to Ferris territory but Delon Stephenson’s interception ended the threat.
The first half ended at 7-7. Ferris had a 123-23 halftime lead in rushing yards but UWF made up for it in passing. Reed was 11-of-28 for 182 yards. Russell was 2-of-9 for 12 yards and two interceptions.
UWF had no fumbles compared to four lost for Ferris, which also threw two interceptions.
Reed was 18-of-44 in passing for 299 yards. Ferris had a 255-67 yards advantage in rushing.
For Ferris, Marvin Campbell had 104 yards rushing and Russell had 123 yards passing.
“I like how our guys have handled things,” Shinnick said. “We beat one of the nation’s best teams for the last two years.”
An impressive partisan Ferris crowd of 3,165 attended the game at Top Taggart Field under cloudy skies and 32 degrees.
“You reflect on the whole season, and wow, what an incredible season,” Annese said. “Obviously when you get to this point and you win 12 games, you want more. We all wanted more. The harshest reality is, man the game is brutal. It just didn’t go our way.
I don’t know what happens on Monday now.
“School is out. It’s tough to have a long season, starting in August and it goes to Dec. 14. It’s tough.”
It was the final game for seniors like Austin Edwards, the GLIAC Player of the Year.
“It’s tough to think of personal accolades when my main goal was to get to the national championship game and win it,” he said. “That’s all I can think about right now.”