October 16, 2012

Case's Ferguson grown into impact player

More news about: Case Western Reserve
Playing at the college level, Ryan Ferguson (right) said, "The speed is so much different and the players are a lot bigger. It took me time to get used to it." Now a senior and Case's leading tackler, he's certainly adjusted.
Case Western Reserve athletics photo

Case Western Reserve outside linebacker Ryan Ferguson is a numbers guy. It comes with the territory of being a statistics major.

So here are some numbers to consider about Ferguson.

At 6-feet and 180 pounds, Ferguson isn't exactly the most fearsome defensive player in college football.

"He is small guy. You wouldn't think he would be such a good football player by just looking at him," Case Western Reserve head coach Greg Debeljak said.

Maybe not, but other numbers tell more of the story, such as the team-best 62 tackles he has tallied this season. He has also forced a fumble and has broken up four passes.

His production has risen steadily since his arrival on campus. He had only six tackles as a freshman and just 11 stops as a sophomore. A year ago, Ferguson moved into a starting role and thrived, racking up 95 tackles.

"I came in as an inside linebacker but I played outside linebacker and had a pretty good season," Ferguson said. "Workouts went well in the offseason for me, and I feel like things have been good so far. Being at outside linebacker is a much better fit for me."

The numbers don't end there for Ferguson. Not only is he in the midst of playing football and taking classes, but he is also studying for Actuarial Exams, which are a series of professional-level exams that must be passed in order to be admitted into an actuarial society.

Topics on the exams include mathematics, economics, finance, law, accounting and investments. Just reading that sentence makes my head spin. The difficulty of the exams can make even the most complex plays in football look like one out of a flag football playbook.

"I definitely have to keep my priorities straight," Ferguson said. "I have been extremely busy because I have to spend a lot of time studying for those exams and still make time for my classes and football. Staying focused has been important."

Ferguson went to a small private school in Wheaton, Ill. He attended St. Francis and was an All-Area, All-Suburban Catholic Conference and All-State selection as a senior while playing tight end and inside linebacker. He also played basketball in high school.

Moving to the college level was a challenge.

"I didn't play on a big team, so it was big change coming to college," Ferguson said. "The speed is so much different and the players are a lot bigger. It took me time to get used to it."

Ferguson played in four games as a freshman and in six games as a sophomore. He caught his big break in the 2011 season opener.

With Mike Fioramanti out with an injury, Ferguson was called upon to step up as a starter for the first time -- and he thrived. He highlighted his performance with an interception return for a touchdown and a fumble return for a touchdown, both plays proving to be key in a 24-17 win over John Carroll. Ferguson also tallied nine tackles.

"It was a huge confidence boost for me," Ferguson said. "It got rid of all of the nerves I had and allowed me to react more on defense. I played with a lot of confidence the rest of the season."

The confidence has carried over to this year. But it goes beyond confidence for Ferguson. His work ethic in the offseason was solid, and while he isn't the biggest or strongest linebacker, he has found other ways to make sure he is in a position to make an impact.

"I put a lot of emphasis on conditioning in the offseason," Ferguson said. "Also, I am more diligent in film study. Any advantage I can gain on an opponent through watching film is an advantage I need. I am not the biggest or strongest guy on the field, but I do what my coaches ask me to do and I play to the whistle, which puts me in positions to make plays and be a great tackler."

The Spartans have made their share of plays as a whole, but they have also missed on some opportunities. They entered the bye week at 3-3 and have one nonconference game remaining before entering University Athletic Association action.

Almost every game has been close. The three losses Case has suffered have been by a combined eight points. Two of their three wins have been decided by three points as well.

The Spartans are out of the playoff picture a year after going 9-1 overall and 3-0 in the UAA, but that doesn't mean they are going to hang their heads for the next four weeks.

"Last year, we won a lot of the close games, and this year, we have lost some of those games," Debeljak said. "I like this football team, but what I don't like is that we are 3-3. At times, we have played very well, but we need to continue to improve and focus on finishing the year strong."

Erik Olson has thrown for 1,249 yards and 10 touchdowns. But he has also been picked off seven times.
Manny Sicre and Kenny Riordan have rushed for 424 yards and 209 yards, respectively, and have combined for three touchdowns.

Sean Lapcevic has been the leading receiver, catching 27 passes for 398 yards and two scores. Brian Rice has caught 24 passes for 338 yards and one touchdown.

Kevin Nossem and Wade Self have stepped up defensively, tallying 57 and 55 tackles, respectively, while Adam Watson has come through with 38 tackles.

The Spartans are averaging 365.3 yards per outing and allowing 296.5 yards per game.
If there is one thing that has hurt Case, though, it is turnovers. The Spartans have turned the ball over 14 times and have only forced six, a surprising statistic for a team that has a history of thriving on turnovers.

"We have to do a better job of creating turnovers, and we have to do a better job of taking care of the football," Debeljak said. "We usually do a very good job in both of those areas. If we can get better with that and just continue to play hard, we should have a chance to win a conference title."

Oberlin is up next for the Spartans on Saturday. UAA action will begin with a road game against Chicago.
And while the Spartans won't have a chance to clinch their first playoff berth since 2009, they do have a chance to repeat as UAA champions.

"We are coming off of a big win over Wooster (31-28) and we are motivated to win our last four games," Ferguson said. "Every game will be tough, but if we play our best, we know we have a chance to win a championship again. It would mean a lot to us."

In the poll

Perhaps someone should consider just shutting off the visitor's side of the scoreboard at Mount Union games because the top-ranked Purple Raiders continue to dominate every opponent in their path.

On Saturday, Mount Union crushed Capital 62-0, marking the fifth consecutive game that it has blanked an opponent, one shy of the school record for shutouts that was set in 2007. The Purple Raiders are 6-0 overall and 5-0 in the Ohio Athletic Conference. They have also won their last 69 regular season games.

Isaiah Scott played a key role in the victory, returning two interceptions for touchdowns on runs of 84 yards and 40 yards. Scott's brother, Joshua, recovered a fumble in the win. Both players finished with two tackles apiece while Hank Spencer, Ted Rosalva and Jonathan Gonell led the defense with five tackles apiece.

Capital managed only 107 yards while the Purple Raiders rolled up 518 yards of offense.

Wabash is up two spots to No. 13 this week after knocking off Washington University 34-14 in a nonconference tilt on Saturday.

The Little Giants rolled up 345 yards on the ground, including 166 by quarterback Chase Belton, who was knocked out of the game in the second quarter with a concussion. Belton scored touchdowns on runs of 69 yards and 56 yards. Tyler Holmes and CP Porter also came through with rushing touchdowns.

Porter finished his day with 85 yards and Holmes churned out 75 yards. Wabash rolled up 479 yards and Washington finished with232 yards, including just 84 on the ground. Justin Woods paced the defensive effort with eight tackles.

Heidelberg and Otterbein entered their game on Saturday tied at No. 25 in the nation. This OAC showdown of unbeaten teams turned out to be one-sided, however, as the Student Princes rolled to a 21-0 victory and jumped to No. 19 in the poll this week.

Michael Mees threw a pair of touchdown passes in the win, hooking up with Nate Hasse on a 28-yard pass and finding C.J. Powell for a 22-yard scoring strike. Mees was 18-of-24 for 240 yards and was picked off once as Heidelberg improved to 6-0 overall and to 5-0 in the OAC.

The Student Princes finished with 391 yards and Dawso Gore and Craig Sykes led the defense with 10 tackles apiece as Heidelberg held its fifth opponent of the year to 10 points or less.

Otterbein is now 5-1 overall and 4-1 in the conference. The Cardinals were held to 213 yards and came up empty on both of their red zone scoring opportunities. Ben Sizemore was 9-of-19 for 107 yards. Ryan Moore tallied nine tackles to lead the Otterbein defense, which allowed a team to score more than 17 points for the first time this year.

Inside the OAC

Ohio Northern delivered Dean Paul his 100th win at the school in convincing fashion as the Polar Bears smashed Marietta 56-14 on Saturday.

Tate Humphrey went 14 of 21 for 271 yards and three touchdowns while Carter Paul rushed for a career-high 121 yards and three scores for the Polar Bears, who are no 2-4 overall and 2-3 in the OAC.

Ohio Northern cranked out 535 yards en route to its sixth consecutive win over the Pioneers. Marietta managed 361 yards against a defense that was anchored by the play of Ryan Reid, who tallied nine tackles and picked off one pass.

Tom Fulton paced the Pioneers as he completed 25 of his 55 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns.

Baldwin Wallace dominated Wilmington 49-17 as the Yellow Jackets picked up their second consecutive win and improved to 5-1 overall and to 4-1 in the OAC.

Sebastian Zuluaga rushed for two touchdowns in the victory and finished his day with 54 yards. Ryan O'Rourke completed 10 of his 18 passes for 88 yards and two scores as Baldwin Wallace racked up 403 yards while holding the Quakers to 244 yards

Andrew Dziak and Michael Stacchiotti tallied six tackles apiece.

Brandon Arehart led Wilmington by throwing for 194 yards on 20-of-28 passing. He threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Alex Koyfis, who also rushed 1 yard for a touchdown.

Inside the NCAC

Ohio Wesleyan is still perfect after rolling over Kenyon 33-14 on Saturday. The Battling Bishops, just 4-6 overall a season ago, are unbeaten through six games and have a 4-0 record in the conference. They are off to their first 6-0 start since the 2001 season.

Against Kenyon, kicker Miles MacKenzie took center stage as he nailed four field goals, the second highest total in a game in school history. His 15 points in the win pushed his season total to 63 points, the highest in program history.

Mason Espinosa came through with another big game as he completed 25 of his 39 passes for 277 yards and a touchdown. Justin Segal had a productive day on defense, racking up 14 tackles and forcing a fumble. He also had one sack. Justin Swary stepped up for the defense as well, returning an interception 67 yards for a score.

Dan Shannon threw for 178 yards to lead Kenyon while Carlo Gagliardo made 10 catches for 127 yards and one touchdown.

Colin Hartford stepped up at just the right time for Allegheny, intercepting a potential game-tying two-point conversion pass with 37 seconds to go as the Gators held off DePauw 22-20 for their first 3-0 start in conference play since 2003 when they last played in the NCAA playoffs. Allegheny is 4-2 overall.

Hartford racked up six tackles in the win while Bill Devlin fueled the defense with 15 tackles, the most by any Allegheny player in a game since November of 2010.

Tim Werley rushed for 96 yards and one touchdown for the Gators. Justin Murray was 21-of-37 for 144 yards and two scores as he played well despite the loss. The Tigers fell to 1-5 overall and to 0-3 in the NCAC.

Inside the MIAA

Adrian took control of the top of the conference with a 10-3 win over Trine on Saturday. The Bulldogs are 5-1 overall and 3-0 in the conference. Trine dropped to 4-3 overall and to 2-1 in the MIAA.

The Bulldogs have won five consecutive games and took a 10-0 lead into halftime. Dustin Salliotte drilled a 22-yard field goal and Taylor Copacia ran 1-yard for a touchdown.

Tyler Keck's 22-yard field goal in the fourth quarter accounted for the Thunder's only points of the day.

Danny Cobb paced the rushing attack of the Bulldogs, churning out 130 yards. Copacia completed 8 of his 15 passes for 83 yards.

Ryan Hargraves led the Thunder as he hit on 11 of his 18 passes for 116 yards. Myron Puryear paced the defense with nine tackles. Juwan King tallied eight tackles to lead the Adrian defense, which limited Trine to 199 yards.

One of the keys to success for Adrian was the fact that it controlled the ball for nearly 37 minutes.

Hope stayed within striking distance of the conference championship after rolling to a 49-14 win over Alma on Saturday. The Flying Dutchmen, who did lose to Adrian earlier this season, improved to 3-4 overall and are 2-1 in the MIAA.

Reggie Duncan, second on the depth chart, played a key role in the win. He carried the ball only four times but rushed for three touchdowns on runs of 15, 4 and 25 yards. He finished his day with 69 yards. Michael Atwell was 12-of-23 for 212 yards and two touchdowns. He was picked off once.

Santino DiCesare helped propel the defense as he racked up nine tackles and picked off two passes.

Jarrett Leister threw for 114 yards and rushed for 37 yards. He completed one touchdown pass and ran for another score as Alma fell to 1-6 overall and to 1-2 in the conference.

Inside the PAC

Bethany had Waynesburg on the ropes Saturday afternoon, but with 18 seconds to play, Alex Henry drilled a 26-yard field goal that lifted the Yellow Jackets to a thrilling 23-21 win.

Waynesburg has won its last three games by seven points or less while the Bison once again fell short in gut-wrenching fashion, losing their third game by four points or less. Bethany is 1-5 overall and 1-3 in the league while Waynesburg improved to 7-0 for the first time since 2007. The Yellow Jackets are 5-0 in the PAC.

Bertrand Ngampa rushed for 206 yards and two touchdowns to pace Waynesburg, which trailed 15-7 at halftime. Carter Hill completed 6 of his 13 passes for 94 yards. Bryan Gary led the defense with 13 tackles.

Matt Grimard gave Bethany a chance to win with a solid performance. He threw a pair of touchdown passes to Ed Holmes and also rushed for a touchdown. Grimard was 25-of-40 for 261 yards and Holmes caught eight passes for 121 yards.

Washington and Jefferson kept its hopes intact for a PAC title after edging Westminster 24-21 at home on Saturday.

The Presidents trailed 14-10 at halftime but battled back in the second half to secure the win. Dion Wiegand scored on a 2-yard run to give the Presidents the lead for good at 17-14 and a 3-yard run by Matt Bliss pushed the Washington and Jefferson lead to 24-14.

Washington and Jefferson improved to 5-2 overall and to 4-1 in the conference. Wiegand rushed for 79 yards and caught six passes for 79 yards. Bliss was 25-of-44 for 312 yards and a touchdown.

Dak Britt rushed for 93 yards and two touchdowns and also threw for 158 yards and a score to pace the Titans, who slipped to 2-3 overall and to 1-3 in the PAC.

Perfection

Two teams remain undefeated in the OAC as Mount Union and Heidelberg have yet to suffer a loss. The Purple Raiders play at Otterbein this week while the Student Princes will battle Muskingum at home. If both teams win, a showdown for first place will be set for Oct. 27 in Alliance.

The lone unbeaten in the NCAC is Ohio Wesleyan. The Battling Bishops could be playing for a conference title when they travel to Allegheny on Nov. 3. The Gators are the only other team with a perfect record in conference play.

Waynesburg is the lone unbeaten team left in the PAC. The Yellow Jackets could be poised for an undefeated regular season as two of their final three games are at home and the only remaining team with a winning record is Washington and Jefferson.

Notes

Mark Myers broke his own single-game passing record on Saturday in John Carroll's 55-28 win over Muskingum. Myers threw for 474 yards and six touchdowns, beating out the 457 yards he threw for in the season opener against St. Norbert in Ireland. His six touchdowns ties the mark set by Tom Arth in 2002. Lane Robilotto broke the single-game receiving record in the first half, catching eight passes for 257 yards. He finished with 10 catches for 267 yards as the Blue Streaks improved to 4-2 overall and 3-2 in the OAC....Ryan Fronius and Dillon Goodell tallied seven tackles apiece to help Geneva hold off Saint Vincent 30-22. Goodell leads the team in tackles with 62 while Fronius has 47 tackles. The Golden Tornadoes, who rolled up 422 yards, won despite turning the ball over four times. They are now 2-4 overall and 2-2 in the PAC...Darrin Williams rushed for 249 yards and a touchdown to lead Albion to a 17-14 win over Kalamazoo. Williams scored on a 56-yard run to give the Britons a 7-0 lead. Albion never trailed as it improved to 4-2 overall and to 1-1 in the MIAA. Williams has rushed for 467 yards and three touchdowns on the season.

Contact me

I love hearing from the readers and feel free to share your thoughts in addition to potential story ideas. Also, don't hesitate to let me know something remarkable a player or team did in a game. You can reach me at brian.lester@d3sports.com or follow me on Twitter: @BLester1993.

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Brian Lester

Brian Lester is a reporter in Findlay, Ohio. He has 14 years of experience at newspapers in Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, spending the last 10 at The Courier in Findlay. Lester also writes an Around the Region column for D3hoops.com. He is a graduate of Eastern Illinois.

2011 columnist: Dean Jackson
2007-10 columnist: Matt Florjancic

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