Mules playoffs run ends at the hands of Ferris State

Central Missouri junior running back Koby Wilkerson carries the ball during the Mules 37-10 loss to Ferris State in the second round of the NCAA Playoffs on Saturday, Nov. 30, in Big Rapids, Michigan.

BIG RAPIDS — Central Missouri quarterback Brook Bolles went into the second round of the NCAA playoffs having thrown a touchdown in his last 23 starts — a new UCM record. The last time the senior hadn’t found thrown for a score was his second career start. That streak ended Saturday, Nov. 30, at the hands of Ferris State.

The Bulldogs defense held Bolles and the offense to a season-low 381 yards and just one rushing touchdowns and a pair of field goals to end Central Missouri’s season 37-10 in the second round of the NCAA playoffs.

“Ferris really has an outstanding team,” Central Missouri coach Jim Svoboda said. “Their kids played hard. They have a great system.”

The Mules finish the season with an 11-2 mark, matching the program’s top mark for wins in a season, and a share of the MIAA title.

“Give Central Missouri a lot of credit,” Ferris State coach Tony Annese said. “It’s an 11-1 team coming here, obviously a great team, and they had a great year. It takes everything you’ve got to beat teams like that. Our guys realize you have to be at your best in the playoffs. If not, your dreams end quick.”

Ferris scored on its first drive, marching 72 yards on eight plays with Davonte Harrington running in from 2 yards out for a 6-0 lead. But Ferris placekicker Jackson Dieterle missed the extra point.

The Mules stormed down the field for a drive of their own for 70 yards on 10 plays with Koby Wilkerson firing in for a 14-yard run and Samuel Knowlton’s PAT made it 7-6.

“For as long as I’ve been at UCM, we’re effective if we mix it up and move the ball around,” Svoboda said. “We try to keep the defenses off balance. It’s tougher against a team like this.”

UCM threatened to score again later in the quarter, driving down to the Ferris three-yard line. Alex Thomas ended that threat, picking off a Bolles pass. The Mules signal caller threw four interceptions on the afternoon and finished 19 of 37 for 253 yards , reaching 4,500 yards on the season and 8,364 passing yards for his career — both second all-time in Mules history. His 44 passing touchdowns this season and 68 career touchdowns are also the second most in their respective categories.

“Things that turn the momentum like that can have an effect in the game,” Svoboda said. “But in the end, you have to look at the disparity in the scoring.”

Ferris took the lead with 6:36 left in the second quarter on Russell’s 58-yard touchdown pass to CJ Jefferson.

Russell threw for 153 yards and a touchdown playing in place of 2018 Harlon Hill winner Jayru Campbell, out for the season after foot surgery on Wednesday, Nov. 27.

Dieterle booted a 38-yard field goal with two seconds left in the half for a 16-7 lead at the intermission.

Bolles connected Drew Slager for 60 yards on the first play of the second half leading to a 26-yard field goal by Knowlton for the final Mules points, trimming the deficit down to 16-10.

Ferris answered with a 22-yard touchdown scamper by Marvin Campbell on a fourth-down play for a 23-10 lead. The 80-yard drive was fueled on a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty, after the whistle, on UCM.

The Mules later in the third forced Ferris to start a drive from its own 1. The Bulldogs, with the aid of a fourth-down conversion at the UCM 20, drove the field on 19 plays for 99 yards with Campbell scoring from a yard away for a 30-10 lead with 1:17 left in the third.

The Mules drove deep to Ferris territory but Thomas intercepted a pass on fourth down, which led to a 13-play 90-yards Bulldog touchdown drive with Campbell scoring from five yards out to set the final score.

“The difference in the second half is, we had a hard time getting the ball,” Svoboda said. “They’re very physical and ran the ball effectively against us. They had a lot of long drives and took a lot of time off the block and scored touchdowns.That puts you behind the eight ball.”

Ferris had a 525-381 advantage in total yards.

The Mules had 128 net yards rushing, led by Devante Turner with 45 and Wilkerson with 43. Deven Smith led the team with 13 total tackles.

“I’m very proud of our team,” Svoboda said. “They had very outstanding season. It’s one of the best teams in the history of our school. It obviously did not end the way we wanted.”

Sports Editor Randy Speer can be reached by emailing randy.speer@dsjnow.com, by calling (660) 747-8123 or on Twitter at @RandySpeer_DSJ.

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