By: Justin Brouckaert, Vanguard Sports Editor
For the first time, the SVSU football team took the field at Wickes Stadium at 7 p.m. for kickoff.
And for the first time, it left the field at 10 p.m. with a win.
The Cardinals defeated Ferris State in Saturday’s season opener by a score of 30-27, racking up 484 yards of total offense in the process.
“I’m happy with the way we played,” head coach Jim Collins said. “We had big expectations going into the game, and I think the biggest thing was that our guys wanted to live up to those expectations.”
The Cardinals offense got to work early, with sophomore quarterback Jonathon Jennings taking the ball into Ferris State territory on the opening drive, but SVSU turned the ball over after a failed fourth-down conversion.
After Ferris State quarterback Tom Schneider punched the ball in with a one- yard touchdown run, Jennings responded on the ensuing drive, hitting junior running back Ronnie Lark for an 18-yard touchdown pass.
Freshman kicker Scott Stanford tacked on a field goal in the second quarter to put the Cardinals up 10-7, but Schneider and the Bulldogs responded with a 12-yard touchdown throw. Schneider finished the game 28 for 34 with 315 yards passing, 47 yards rushing and three touchdowns, giving the Cardinals defense trouble all night with his mobility.
“We had a tough time getting to him,” Collins said. “We didn’t sack him as many times as we wanted to, but we forced some mistakes on his part in terms of errant passes, and that was enough to get the job done.”
The Cardinals’ spread offense answered back as Jennings hit sophomore wide receiver Jeff Janis for a 56-yard touchdown pass with less than five minutes left in the half. Jennings was 19 for 24 with 310 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions, adding 27 yards on the ground.
“I’m happy with the fact that he keeps getting better,” Collins said. “I think that was probably his best performance in terms of any practice, scrimmage or game.”
Jennings’ 310 yards were the most of his career, topping a 227-yard performance in 2010.
“I feel like we executed very well,” Jennings said. “I just went out there and tried to do my job, and I think that’s what we were all doing.”
After a punt by Ferris State, the Cardinals scored again just before halftime, with Lark finding the end zone once more on a one-yard carry. Lark finished with 76 yards and one touchdown on 18 carries.
SVSU put up over 300 yards of total offense in the first half, carrying a 24-17 lead into the break. Nick Gallina was Jennings’ favorite target, catching eight passes in the game for 109 yards.
The second half proved to be a bigger challenge for Jennings and the Cardinals.
After a first half where SVSU didn’t punt, their first three drives of the second half resulted in a punt, a missed field goal and an interception.
“Ferris made a couple of good plays,” Jennings said. “We didn’t execute as well as we could have.”
Schneider and the Ferris State offense continued to click in the third quarter, scoring a touchdown and field goal to go up 27-24, their first and only lead of the game.
“We knew their offense was potent,” Collins said. “[Schneider] made some tremendous plays.”
But Jennings and the Cardinals responded on the team’s final drive.
After a 40-yard punt return by sophomore wide receiver Tim Hogue, Jennings led the team to the Ferris State ten yard line with 4:25 remaining, hitting sophomore wide receiver Mark Thrash for a touchdown that brought all 8,173 fans to their feet.
“We’ve been talking about finishing since our 5:30 a.m. winter workouts,” Jennings said. “I knew we had an opportunity to do that right there.”
“He made a lot of smart decisions,” Collins said of Jennings’ late drive. “At the end of the day, when we had to make a play for the touchdown, we executed it.”
The SVSU defense, led by junior linebacker Grant Caserta’s 12 tackles, forced Ferris State to punt on the ensuing drive
Jennings was able to run 2:46 off the clock before punting with 39 second remaining, ostensibly giving the Bulldogs one last possession.
But on the punt, the ball bounced off a Ferris State player and the Cardinals recovered it to clinch the game.
SVSU is back in action at Lake Erie at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 17.