DII games to watch: No. 7 Ferris State faces No. 5 Ashland with win streak on the line
Twice in the last two weeks on the road, Ferris State faced a double-digit deficit and found a way to win. More than likely, the Bulldogs will be in another tight game when they take on Ashland Saturday.
“The first thing is we all believe in each other,” Ferris State senior wide receiver Shakur Sanders said. “That is the big thing. Being here in the spring with a new quarterback and new players and grinding in the summer, we built a chemistry. We have heart. With our heart, you can fight and get things done. You believe you can make the big play when you are called on.”
Sanders, who is in his fifth season in the Ferris State football program, knows as well as anyone on the team that it is going to take focus to be successful when the Bulldogs, ranked No. 7 in the AFCA top 25, play their homecoming game Saturday afternoon against No. 5 Ashland.
Both teams are 3-0 and undefeated in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletics Conference that also features No. 2 Grand Valley State.
“I am very glad to be in this conference because we get to go against some of the best teams in Division II,” Sanders said. “You don’t want to play against teams that are not the best. We want to play against the best every week. It makes us go above our limit. If you play against great competition, you perform great.”
It is still September, but the stakes will be high when the football sails through the air for the 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff Saturday. The game will be televised on American Sports Network (ASN).
“Honestly, I didn’t know it was going to be televised,” Sanders said. “I’m one of the leaders on the team, so if you are looking at that, you are looking at the wrong thing. The only thing that matters is the players on the field.”
It is that mentality that has helped Ferris State win its last 28 regular season games. The 28th straight victory set a new school record.
Leading the way at quarterback for 25 of those wins was two-time Harlon Hill winner Jason Vander Laan.
The quarterback baton was passed on to Reggie Bell, who has completed 62-of-102 passes for 619 yards and five touchdowns in three games.
“I think Reggie has done a nice job,” Ferris State coach Tony Annese said. “There was a lot of pressure on him. For him to be the quarterback and win those three games to break that record and live up to some of the things that have been established here, that is a lot of pressure on the young man.
“I give him a lot of credit. He has been able to do the things that he does well and not get distracted by what was done here in the past, but to move forward with some of the things we are doing.”
Like all new quarterbacks breaking in, a mistake here or there is going to happen. But whatever happens on the field, Bell knows his teammates have his back.
“We let him know we still believe in him,” Sanders said. “We are there for him. We follow him.”
It will take a game in which the Bulldogs are all on the same page to beat Ashland. The Eagles have outscored their first three opponents 119-28.
The anticipation for this game is high, which is common when two, top 10 teams play each other on homecoming.
“Honestly,” Sanders said, “it is off the roof. Everybody is excited on campus, even our teachers are excited. For the players, this is a big week. We are happy to be coming into the game 3-0. We are going to give it our best shot. It is almost a conference championship type of game.”
Annese is confident his team will not get distracted by the all excitement that will surround the game.
“We have been able to focus on the opponent that week,” Annese said. “We haven’t gotten too low or too high for any particular opponent. We know Ashland is a great team. Our philosophy here is trying to be the best team we are capable of being. We are going to put our best foot forward and go out there and play 60 hard minutes of football and hopefully come out the victor.”
|2016 Statistics||Ashland||Ferris State|
Bemidji State heads on the road for another important game
For the second time in the last three weeks, Bemidji State heads on the road to face a highly-ranked team. It is almost certain that No. 15 Sioux Falls will be ready for the Beavers for the 7 p.m. ET kickoff at USF Sports Complex.
Bemidji State caught the eye of many NCAA Division II followers on Sept. 10 when it went to Minnesota State Mankato, then-ranked No. 6, and won 45-17.
The Beavers followed that upset with another 45-17 victory last week against Wayne State (Neb.) and moved up from No. 24 to No. 22 in the poll.
“Any time you can go on the road and beat a really good team in Mankato, I think it probably certainly got some attention,” Bemidji State coach Brent Bolte said. “We are probably on a lot of teams’ radars by the way we ended last year.”
Indeed. After losing the first three games in 2015, the Beavers won seven of their last eight games. Part of that improvement came with the development of quarterback Jordan Hein after the third game last year. So far this season, Hein has completed 61.1 percent of his passes for 889 yards and six touchdowns.
Bolte also started to see a change in the team when the program hired a new strength and conditioning coach and an assistant.
“We had about 70 guys who were here on and off during the summer,” Bolte said. “The last couple of summers it has been really evident.”
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The defense has also been playing well. One of the key players on defense is senior defensive back Damon Benham. On Monday, Benham earned his first Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference defensive player of the week. He had two interceptions against Wayne State, including returning one 19 yards for a touchdown.
“He is a tremendous leader,” Bolte said. “He is a captain. He has been part of the turnaround. He has been instrumental in leading our guys. He is so smart with all the routes and the experience. He brings a lot to the table. He is a guy who can stick you in the open field and does a good job on coverage. He is kind of the quarterback on defense. He runs the show back there for us.”
Bolte knows his team will face a tough test at Sioux Falls. The Cougars reached the NCAA Division II playoffs last season and dating back to 2014, they are 23-4 overall.
“They are extremely good and well-coached,” Bolte said. “You can use the clichés that we have to go down and play extremely well to give ourselves a chance. They have a good offensive line. Their running backs are good. They are really good on offense. They have a dangerous quarterback. We have to limit their running game and force them to throw the ball. Offensively, we [have] to keep doing what we have been doing. We have to play quick tempo, get the ball to the athletes out in space and try to score a bunch of points.”
|2016 Statistics||Bemidji State||Sioux Falls|
Central State plays Kentucky State at Lucas Oil Stadium
Throw the records out when Central State takes on Kentucky State in a Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The players on each team will have lifelong memories as they are playing the Circle City Classic at Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts.
Kickoff is 3 p.m. ET Saturday and will be televised on ESPN3.
“We’ll be playing in a great atmosphere against our archrival,” said Kentucky State coach John Smith on the school’s website.