McKinney, Texas — Ferris State’s quest for its first national championship in football came up one two-point conversion short.
Jevon Shaw completed an NCAA Division 2 title game-record 80-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter and, after the Bulldogs had trimmed what had been an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit to two on Sy Barnett’s 5-yard TD run with 40 seconds left in regulation, Ferris State again turned to its 5-foot-10 inch junior slot receiver to make a play.
Barnett took the handoff from quarterback Jayru Campbell and then passed back to Shaw who was looking for Campbell in the end zone, but instead, threw a couple of inches too high for Keyondre Craig.
Valdosta State recovered the ensuing onside kick and proceeded to run out the clock on Ferris State’s historic run to its first title game appearance, earning a 49-47 victory at McKinney ISD Stadium on Saturday evening, giving the Blazers their fourth national championship (they previously won titles in 2004, 2007 and 2012).
“Jaryu was covered and I had Keyondre,” Shaw said of the two-point try. “Keyondre had a few steps on the guy in the back of the end zone. I threw to where only he could get it. It just didn’t turn out our way.”
Ferris State coach Tony Annese said there were eight two-point plays his team could have ran in that situation.
“In the end, I told them it is my fault we lost because we probably should have had a better two-point conversion play,” he said. “It is something we practice. I always say when we win, it is because of the players and if we lose, it is because of me. It is our first loss of the year. 15-1 is pretty incredible.”
In a game that featured two undefeated teams, Valdosta State (14-0) and Ferris State combined for seven lead changes and set five title game records: most points scored by a team in a loss (47), longest field goal (52 yards by Ferris’ Jackson Dieterle), longest pass play (80 yards from Shaw to Craig for a 7-0 Bulldogs lead in the first quarter), most touchdowns responsible for (Valdosta State’s Rogan Wells with six) and most passing yardage by one team (Valdosta State, 374).
Ferris State’s defense had trouble getting off the field all day against Valdosta State and Wells, a 6-3, 220-pound redshirt-sophomore quarterback who completed 19 of 31 passes for 349 yards and five touchdowns. He added his sixth total touchdown on a 25-yard pass from Ivory Dunham for a 49-38 Bulldogs lead with 11:36 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“They did a real good job on third down,” said Ferris State junior defensive end Austin Thomas, whose defense yielded 496 yards and an 11-of-17 third-down conversion rate to Valdosta State. “We had to do better getting off the field on third down.”
Trailing by 11, Campbell (98 passing yards on 10 of 18, along with a game-high 99 rushing yards and one TD), who on Friday was named the Harlon Hill winner, the NCAA Division 2 equivalent of the Heisman, engineered two late scoring drives to give the Bulldogs one final chance at a furious rally.
Dieterle booted a 31-yard field goal to trim the deficit to 49-41 with 5:31 left in regulation before Barnett brought Ferris State to within two on his short-yardage run with less than a minute remaining in the fourth quarter.
Earlier in the second half, Craig miraculously caught a 13-yard touchdown pass on a play on which Campbell intended to throw the ball out of bounds but it was tipped back into the field of play by Valdosta State’s Cory Roberts and fell in the hands of an alert Craig.
“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” Craig said. “I was grateful that I was on the field that play.”
Edwards said the experience for Ferris State to reach the national title game will hopefully be one of many to come for the Bulldogs.
“Being second sucks,” he said. “We had a great season. We came a long way since spring ball to camp. Honestly, we shocked ourselves for the way that we fought the whole season.”
David Wolman is a freelance writer.