The No. 20 Argos are set to square off with the No. 2 Ferris State at 2:30 p.m. CST Saturday in Big Rapids, Michigan, with an NCAA Division II National Championship berth on the line.
PENSACOLA — Another week, another undefeated opponent.
At this point, it’s become the West Florida football team’s new normal. The No. 20 Argos vanquished No. 1 Valdosta State two weeks ago, snapping the Blazers’ 25-game win streak in the process, before knocking off No. 6 Lenoir-Rhyne this past week, 43-38, snapping the Bears’ streak at 13 games to secure their second Final Four berth in program history.
“This was one heck of a football game, and one that could have been won by either side,” UWF coach Pete Shinnick said on his weekly “The Coach Shinnick Show” appearance. ”We just made enough plays at the end to make that thing work.”
Now, UWF’s focus turns to 12-0 Ferris State, the Argos set to square off with the No. 2 team in the country at 2:30 p.m. CST Saturday in Big Rapids, Michigan, with an NCAA Division II National Championship berth on the line. The game will be broadcast on ESPN 3, the ESPN App and ESPN Pensacola 1330 AM/99.1 FM.
No strangers to the big game themselves, the Bulldogs played for the title this past December, narrowly falling to Valdosta State 49-47, and Shinnick said they earned every bit of that appearance.
“They’re 28-1 in the last two years, only lost by a couple of points to the national champion in the national championship,” he said. “They do a lot of things very well. They’re gifted on both sides of the ball, probably as talented a group as we have seen.
“They’re up with the Valdosta-type football program that you’re just like, ‘Wow, they’ve got guys at every position.”
As with most Division II teams, Ferris State’s dominance starts on the ground. Junior running backs Marvin Campbell and Tyler Minor have combined for 1,362 yards and 18 rushing touchdowns, while sophomore quarterback Evan Cummins has chipped in 454 rushing yards and eight more rushing scores.
Cummins isn’t the primary gunslinger, however. Senior Travis Russell took over for Jayru Campbell, the 2018 Harlon Hill winner, earlier this season when the latter was hurt and has since thrown for 1,380 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions.
“He’s been fantastic, gotten as much done as you probably could have asked for,” Shinnick said. “If you were to say, ‘Hey, this guy had started the season and has been playin’ all year,’ you would believe that based on his play.”
Defensively, the Bulldogs have allowed just 12.5 points and 263.4 yards per game behind a unit featuring a standout player at every level.
Senior linebacker Avonte Bell leads Ferris State with 68 tackles, including 13 for a loss and 6.5 sacks, which trails only senior defensive end Austin Edwards’s mark of 10.5 sacks. Meanwhile, senior defensive backs James Ceasar and Alex Thomas have combined for 11 interceptions.
“They’re strong across the board,” Shinnick said. “There are very few weaknesses, very few holes that you see. I think their D-line and front seven is probably as good as we’ve seen, which is what you expect at this time. There’s a reason these teams are the way they are.”
That said, UWF has a pretty solid defense, too.
The unit features three all-conference selections — defensive lineman Ian Bush, nickelback Trent Archie and linebacker Kedrick Bradley — and ranks 23rd in the country in terms of scoring defense, allowing just 18.5 points per game.
On the opposite side of the ball, Shinnick’s offense holds up its end of the bargain, averaging 36.31 points per game behind the Gulf South Conference’s Offensive Freshman of the Year, Austin Reed.
A redshirt freshman, Reed has thrown for 3,262 yards, 31 touchdowns and just nine interceptions with an extra six scores on the ground.
And, of course, he has plenty of help.
Senior offensive lineman Samuel Antoine and Joe Wintrick were named to the GSC’s first and second teams, respectively, giving their freshman gunslinger plenty of time to throw, while receivers Tate Lhetio and Quentin Randolph provided reliable targets, the pair also named to the GSC’s first and second teams, respectively.
Lehtio leads the team with 75 receptions for 863 yards, and Randolph has 858 yards with eight touchdowns.