BIG RAPIDS, Mich. – Ohio Dominican's offense racked up a season-high 548 yards and the defense forced four turnovers as the Panthers kept their season alive, upsetting top-seed Ferris State 46-33 in the NCAA Regional Semifinals on Saturday.
The Panthers, ranked No. 9 in the nation and No. 5 in the region, improved to 11-1. Ferris State, which is ranked No. 4, ended its season with an 11-1 record.
ODU will be on the road again next week to play Colorado State-Pueblo in the regional final. The Thunderwolves, the No. 2 seed in the region, defeated Angelo State 52-14 in the other regional semifinal today and will host the Panthers in Pueblo at a time to be determined.
Trailing 27-24 late in the third quarter, the Panthers scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to earn the win, outscoring Ferris 22-6 in the final frame.
Freshman JT McFarland (Zanesville, Ohio) had two acrobatic catches on third down plays to get ODU to the goal line, and freshman Darryl Johnson (Mason, Ohio) ran it in over the left side from the one yard line to put ODU in front 31-27 moments into the fourth.
The Panther defense nearly came up with another turnover, as junior Paul Wesselhoeft (Logan, Ohio) forced a fumble, but ODU could not recover it in bounds. Four plays later, the Bulldogs scored on a 24 yard run to go back on top 33-31 with 12:15 left.
On the ensuing drive, senior quarterback Mark Miller (Cincinnati, Ohio) stood tall in the middle of a blitz and fired a strike to junior Dez Stewart (Cincinnati, Ohio) across the middle, and Stewart broke free for 44 yards to the Ferris 30 yard line. Three plays later, senior Nick McKnight (Middletown, Ohio) caught a short pass, spun to the sideline and stayed in bounds all the way to the end zone for a touchdown. Miller's two-point pass to freshman Derek Rieman (Columbus Grove, Ohio) was complete, giving ODU a 39-33 lead with just over nine minutes left.
Ferris moved back into ODU territory, but a deflected pass wound up in the hands of freshman linebacker Cameron Kohl (Hilliard, Ohio), and he returned the interception to the Ferris 42 yard line with just over seven minutes left. A roughing the punter penalty kept ODU's drive alive, and on third down Miller lobbed a pass to Johnson sneaking out of the backfield down the left sideline for a 29 yard touchdown. That gave the Panthers a 46-33 lead with 4:35 left.
The Bulldogs had one last scoring threat, but junior Colten Skinner (Waterford, Ohio) intercepted a pass at the goal line with two minutes left, and ODU ran out the clock for its second straight road playoff win.
Miller had career highs in completions (34), attempts (46) and yards (462) while tossing four touchdown passes. The 462 yards passing are the most by a Panther since the 2009 season.
Eight different receivers had at least one reception. Stewart caught six passes for 137 yards, Johnson had career bests with seven grabs for 74 yards, and McKnight had six catches for 65 yards and two scores.
Facing one of the nation's top offenses for a second straight week, ODU held Ferris over 100 yards below its season scoring average and allowed just four offensive touchdowns to a team that averaged 47.8 points per game, second-most in the nation.
Kohl had 14 tackles, junior Sydney Omameh (Columbus, Ohio) had a personal best with 13 tackles, as did sophomore Marquise Tyus (Lakewood, Ohio). Wesselhoeft also had a career day with seven tackles (3.5 for loss). Ferris State ran for 187 yards after averaging 334.5 yards per game on the ground entering today.
ODU started the game with the ball, and a 29 yard screen pass to junior Brandon Schoen (Lewis Center, Ohio) set up the Panthers at the Ferris 28. Three plays later, Miller fired a bullet to McKnight, who hung on for the touchdown with a defender draped on him.
The Bulldogs answered with a score on their first drive, but the extra point was blocked and kept the Panthers in front 7-6 just over five minutes into the game.
ODU drove inside the Ferris red zone, but kicking into a stiff wind saw a field goal attempt come up short. But the Panther defense came up with big plays on each of FSU's next two drives, as junior Billy Eakins (Pickerington, Ohio) forced a fumble that Kohl recovered to stop one, and junior Brad McCurdy (Columbus, Ohio) had a sliding interception on the final play of the first quarter as well.
But the Panthers went three-and-out on three straight drives, and Ferris returned a punt 66 yards for a touchdown to grab a 13-7 lead early in the second quarter.
Pass plays of 13 and 37 yards to Stewart set up the Panthers inside the Bulldog 10 yard line, and ODU capped the drive with a 25 yard field goal by junior Brent Wahle (Pataskala, Ohio) to cut the deficit to 13-10 with 6:27 left in the second quarter.
The defense forced another three-and-out, and a 27 yard pass down the sideline to Stewart had the Panthers inside the Ferris 10 for a second straight drive. This time, the Panthers turned it into seven points, as Miller rolled to his right and found Stewart in the front of the end zone to give ODU a 17-13 lead with 3:34 left in the quarter.
Ferris, though, was able to regain the lead on its final drive of the half, taking advantage of a short field to go 53 yards in 12 plays, capped off with a one yard touchdown pass with 10 seconds left to go into the locker room with a 20-17 lead.
Miller found sophomore Aaron Stephens (Ironton, Ohio) for a 40 yard gain down the near sideline, and on the next play threw a block for Schoen sweeping around the left edge, letting Schoen walk in to the end zone for a nine yard score. That put the Panthers back in front 24-20 early in the third quarter.
Ferris scored a touchdown with 4:05 left in the quarter to retake the lead at 27-24, setting up the fourth quarter dramatics.
This is now the 16th consecutive road win for ODU, and the Panthers snapped Ferris' 15 game win streak, which was the longest in the nation. Earlier this fall, Ferris defeated ODU 34-19 in Columbus, which ended the Panthers' 21-game regular season win streak.
Contact: Scott Miles