Big Rapids — Reggie Bell picked apart Northern Michigan’s defense, throwing for 252 yards and four touchdowns to give Ferris State a 35-7 lead … and that was just in the first half Saturday night at Top Taggart Field.
Bell was quickly becoming a Harlon Hill frontrunner for the Bulldogs, ranked No. 2 in the NCAA Division II football poll. He showed his dual-threat ability by running for 216 yards and four TDs and throwing for 206 yards and a TD in a 48-27 season-opening victory at Findlay Sept. 9.
However, things could change drastically for Ferris State (2-0) if Bell has trouble recovering from an ankle injury that had his teammates carry him off the field early in the second half against Northern Michigan.
With Bell out, the Bulldogs struggled offensively, turning the ball over four times — two interceptions, two fumbles — in the second half while gaining just 219 of their 637 total yards.
“I’m doing fine, it’s not broken,” Bell said about his ankle on Tuesday evening.
When asked if he was still on crutches, Bell replied: “No.”
And, could Bell play Saturday at No. 26 Ashland (3-0)?
“Yes, it’s a possibility,” he replied.
Ashland ruined Ferris State’s Homecoming last year, coming back from a 31-14 deficit to earn a 39-31 victory.
Bell led the Bulldogs to the Division II national semifinals, trailing two-time national champion Northwest Missouri State 21-20 in the third quarter before suffering a 35-20 loss.
Bell completed 60.4 percent of his passes last season after transferring from Eastern Michigan, throwing for 2,085 yards and 11 TDs while rushing for 1,217 yards and 16 TDs.
So, just how good is Bell? Well, at Eastern, he put together two games that are atop or near the top of the record books in school history. He became the first Eastern player to run for two 70-plus yard TDs in a game, rushing for 202 yards and 3 TDs in a 37-27 win over Buffalo during the 2014 season. And, in that same season, he completed 36-of-49 passes for 409 yards and 3 TDs without an interception in a 45-30 loss to Ball State.
Bell took a physical beating with his 6-foot-3, 180-pound frame during that 2-10 season, and with four-star quarterback Brogan Roback on board with the Eagles, Bell transferred to Ferris State following the ’15 season.
Ferris State got into the national playoffs with a pair of losses last season so it wouldn’t be the end of the world if Bell misses Saturday’s showdown at Ashland, but he has to be back on the field, and healthy, in the next couple of weeks with Wayne State coming into Big Rapids Sept. 30 for Homecoming or a season with such high expectations could come to a crashing halt.
Ashland showcases quarterback Travis Tarnowski, who earned Player of the Week honors in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, connecting on 15-of-18 passes for 339 yards and five TDs in a 42-14 rout of Northwood Saturday, owning a 42-0 halftime lead.
Ferris State has been among the premier teams in Division II since Tony Annese’s arrival as head coach before the 2012 season. The Bulldogs are 36-5 during the last four years, winning consecutive GLIAC titles in 2014 and ’15, then advancing to the national semifinals last season.
“I thought in the first half our offense had great rhythm,” Annese said Saturday night following the game. “In the second half then we had four turnovers which is a horrible statistic. In was a tale of two halves, but we got through it and move toward to this week’s game at Ashland.
“I felt the ball was distributed very effectively, got the ball to a lot of guys. Reggie was really sharp, 254 yards passing in the first half alone, then got rolled up on and hurt his ankle so we had to roll with Travis and Jevon so we’ll see what happens. As far as moving forward, if he can’t play, it’s rolling with the guys we have. We’ll figure it out.”
If Bell can’t go redshirt sophomore Travis Russell has to be better than he was Saturday (two interceptions) or Annese could go with redshirt sophomore Jevon Shaw, who led the Bulldogs to their lone second-half TD.
“I think I can handle the job if called upon, but it would be a big loss because Reggie is so dynamic and he’s a dual-threat so that will be some hard shoes to fill,” Shaw said.
Shaw was a three-year starter at quarterback for Farmington Hills Harrison, leading the Hawks to the Division 2 state semifinals his senior year, 2014.
Russell was a three-year starter at Grand Rapids West Catholic, leading his team to consecutive Division 5 state titles in 2013 and ’14.