No. 20 UWF advances to the program’s second D2 national championship with a 28-14 victory against No. 2 Ferris State
BIG RAPIDS, Mich. — Their cheers cutting through Michigan’s sub-freezing temperatures and echoing across Top Taggart Field, the West Florida Argonauts huddled together in celebration.
“We’re going to the ‘ship! We’re going to the ‘ship! We’re going to the ‘ship!”
Yes, for the second time in just four years with a football program, UWF is bound for the NCAA Division II National Championship after upsetting second-ranked Ferris State 28-14 on Saturday evening in Big Rapids.
“It’s an amazing win for our team and we’re on to the Natty,” Argo quarterback Austin Reed told ESPN on its postgame broadcast.
Having already ousted No. 16 Wingate, No. 1 Valdosta State and No. 6 Lenoir-Rhyne in addition to the Bulldogs, the No. 20 Argos (12-2) will face No. 4 Minnesota State at 2 p.m. Saturday in McKinney, Texas for the title. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.
Facing off against the second ranked scoring defense in the country, UWF trailed Ferris State (12-1) 14-7 at halftime, its offense largely shut down save for Reed’s 34 yard touchdown pass to senior Tate Lehtio on the Argos’ opening drive.
But Reed and Co. persisted. Buoyed by a defense that forced six Bulldog turnovers and posted a second half shutout, the Argo offense came alive in the second half and made the Bulldogs pay for their miscues.
A botched fake field goal near midfield turned into a 21-yard Austin Williams field goal midway through the third quarter, and fumble by Ferris State receiver Xavier Wade at the end of the frame turned into a second made kick early in the fourth, this time from 25 yards out.
Just one play into the Bulldogs’ ensuing drive, a second fumble at their own 16 turned into Reed’s second touchdown pass of the night to Lehtio, the redshirt freshman lofting a beautiful back-shoulder throw to UWF’s all-time leading receiver for a 19-14 lead.
After a successful two-point conversion, UWF forced a third second-half fumble and set up shop at the Bulldogs’ 33. Four plays later, Reed hit Navarre alumnus Quentin Randolph for a 6-yard touchdown and the two-touchdown lead.
“We just kept believing,” Reed said. “We have a bunch of guys who just kept coming up to us and saying, ‘Keep grinding, keep grinding.’ We know the kind of team we have, we know the kind of players we have. We know that eventually it’s all gonna work out and we were gonna get in the end zone.”
Reed, the Gulf South Conference Offensive Freshman of the Year, finished his day with 299 yards passing, three touchdowns and just one interception. Lehtio caught seven balls for 118 and the two scores.
UWF’s 28 points tied Central Washington for the most points Ferris State had allowed in a game this season.
With the victory, UWF improves to 8-0 on the road in the playoffs, including a 4-0 mark against undefeated teams. The Argos have dubbed their dominance the “Trap Tour.”
“We walk into your trap, we take over your trap,” Reed said. “We love it. Walk into a stadium full of people that hate you, walk into a stadium full of people that don’t want to see you win and you go do your thing.”