Lead slips through Husky hands in loss to Ferris
HOUGHTON – Change any one of a number of factors Saturday at Sherman Field, and the Michigan Tech football team walks away talking about a solid win over a strong team to set up a monumental clash with GLIAC-leading Saginaw Valley next week.
Instead, the Huskies blew a 17-point second half lead, failed to convert on a fourth-and-one from the Ferris State 11-yard line in the fourth quarter after forgoing a game-tying field goal attempt and then allowed the Bulldogs to milk the final 7:10 off the clock to protect their 30-27 lead.
From 5-2 (with a plethora of GLIAC possibilities) to 4-3 just like that, with every player and coach on both sides of the ball left pondering what-ifs the rest of the weekend.
“Will I sleep tonight?” Tech head coach Tom Kearly mused after the game. “No. That’s pretty safe to say.”
“As a team, we definitely need to put our foot on the neck when we have them down,” Tech quarterback Tyler Scarlett added.
Through their first seven possessions – not counting an end-of-the-half clock-kill – the Huskies offense looked as efficient as it had all year, moving the ball consistently and finishing off drives with four trips to the end zone. But after a Scarlett run gave Tech a 27-10 lead (with a failed PAT from kicker Garrett Mead that factored later) with 7:45 remaining in the third quarter, the offense stalled out completely, gaining just 18 yards on its final four possessions.
With the Ferris vaunted ground-game churning at will for much of the second half, Kearly was faced with a decision after a fortuitous forced fumble from defensive end Cam Allen gave the Huskies the ball inside the Ferris red zone.
Attempt a game-tying 28-yard field goal or try to convert and take the lead?
Taking a timeout to mull his options, Kearly elected to go for it, calling a rollout with Scarlett to his right and a rub route as his main option.
The Bulldogs sniffed it out, however, forcing a Scarlett throw to the back of the end zone towards Andrew Clark, who slipped at an inopportune moment.
“There were a lot of factors,” Kearly said of his decision to go for it on fourth down. “We were on a hash, not in the middle. There was a swirling wind, we had just missed the last extra point so the confidence wasn’t there. We had fourth and 1, and if we don’t get it, there is still 7:30 to go and we have the wind at our back.
“The other thing is the mentality, we want to play to win.”
The Huskies attempted the pass after a third-and-one run attempt with fullback Cole Welch had lost yards on the previous drive.
“That’s probably why we rolled out instead of trying to slug it out with them because they got us,” Kearly said. “That third down when we didn’t make it on the belly play, that’s also a factor.”
The decision would prove to be the last Kearly would have a chance to make, as the Bulldogs were able to drain the final 7:10 from the clock with a 15-play 76-yard drive to end the game.
Ferris quarterback Jason Vander Laan, a 6-foot-4, 236 pound bruiser, rushed seven times and completed two passes on the drive and finished the game with an 8-yard smash on a crucial fourth-and-one.
It was more of what the Huskies had seen all second half from Vander Laan, who finished with 218 yards rushing (31 attempts) and 131 yards passing.
“We were talking on the sidelines a lot, you have to wrap him up and you have to drive your feet because it is three yards every time he stretches at least,” Tech’s leading tackler Taylor Ziolkowski said. “It just fell apart a little bit.”
“We can’t let somebody take (7:10) off us and go into the wind and never throw the football,” Kearly added.
While the last two drives will likely haunt the Huskies most, there were plenty of opportunities missed throughout the second half that could have changed the nature of the contest.
Scarlett delivered an interception that quickly turned into a Ferris touchdown when he overthrew a slant route. A drop and false start penalty forced a three-and-out on the following drive and Welch’s failed plunge gave way to another punt.
For the defense, Ziolkowski highlighted the third and fourth down splits from the first and second half.
Tech’s defense allowed 7-of-10 conversions on third and fourth down in the second half after a 2-for-8 mark in the opening two quarters.
“Second half we lost those inches,” Ziolkowski said. “That’s what did it. We had a lot of chances to get off the field today and we lost it by inches.”