December 5th, 2019 11:00am
Eight teams remain in the NCAA DII football playoffs and for the fourth consecutive year, the Ferris State Bulldogs are among the final eight teams playing football.
It’s one of countless accomplishments making up the laundry list of successes in the Tony Annese era at Ferris State that began in December of 2011.
It’s safe to say the only thing missing from the list is a National Championship, but I’m getting ahead of myself, back to the upcoming national quarterfinal matchup for the Bulldogs.
Standing in the way of Ferris State returning to the National Semifinals is a program with arguably the most decorated history in all of Division II – the Northwest Missouri State Bearcats.
NWMS has appeared in nine NCAA Division II national title games – winning six. The Bearcats have made the playoffs in 20 seasons and have also won or shared 30 MIAA titles.
These two teams have a brief history, but certainly a notable one. FSU and NWMS met last year in the Super Region Three semifinal in a hotly contested game that went down to the wire after NWMS recovered an onside kick and had the ball with a last-shot heave, but ultimately the Bulldogs earned the 27-21 win to advance to the National Semifinals. The Bearcats ended Ferris State’s season back in 2016 in the National Semifinals with a 35-20 victory.
This year, the stakes are once again exceptionally high – a Super Region Three crown and a trip to the National Semifinals on the line, but given both of these teams aspirations of a national title, this game simply represents the next step of the journey.
No. 1 Ferris State versus No. 3 Northwest Missouri State. The Bulldogs have won 11 consecutive games, 28 straight regular season wins dating back to 2017, and the last 13 games at Top Taggart Field. Northwest Missouri State is 12-1 and riding a six-game winning streak and won a share of the MIAA title. The Bearcats have been in the playoffs 16 consecutive seasons - every year since 2004.
Tony Annese is in his 8th season at Ferris State and has lead the Bulldogs to a 86-15 record including a current 28-game regular season winning streak that has included back-to-back undefeated regular seasons and GLIAC titles. Ferris State reached the NCAA DII National Championship game in 2018 before falling to Valdosta State.
Rich Wright is in his third year as the head coach at Northwest Missouri State and has posted a 31-7 mark for the Bearcats. Wright arrived at Northwest in 2004 as the defensive line coach and coordinator of special teams. In 2011, Wright was named defensive coordinator and assistant head coach. He’s had a hand in the Bearcats’ 16 consecutive playoff appearances.
WHAT 2 WATCH 4:
The Northwest Missouri State defense has forced 35 turnovers this season; tied for the second most in the entire country. The Bearcats’ defense also ranks in the top ten in turnover margin and rushing defense. Meanwhile, Ferris State’s offense is in the top-ten in rushing yards per game and passing yards per attempt. The matchup between the Bearcat defense which is one of the best in the country and the Bulldog offense, also one of the best in the country, will be a compelling component to this game.
Ferris State’s defense has been a force all season long, ranking third in the country in scoring defense allowing just 13.4 points per game while the NWMS offense is coming off an eight-touchdown performance in a 63-7 win over Lindenwood last week, but they haven’t always clicked. In the opening round of the playoffs, the Bearcat offense was limited to seven points by a tough Harding defense. If the Ferris State defense continues to play the way they have all year, expect the Bulldogs to hold the Bearcats offense in check.
Saturday’s contest features the two most successful teams of the decade – it will have a national championship feel and it’s almost too bad these two teams have to meet in a regional final as opposed to the national championship. Regardless, these two programs epitomize success, and I’m not going out on any kind of limb by saying Saturday’s game will likely come down to one possession and could be decided on the last play of the game. I anticipate a low-scoring, defensive struggle type of affair, but Ferris State’s offense being able to score just enough to get the win. Ferris State 16, NWMS 13.