Story and photo courtesy of Ashland Athletics
CANTON, Ohio – Fictional barkeep Sam Malone, one of the central characters in the former NBC sitcom Cheers, liked to hark back to past glory days.
For a half on Saturday night (Oct. 20) at Fawcett Stadium, the Malone University Pioneers, bolstered by the fact that they trailed the sixth-ranked Ashland University Eagles by just 10 points, 17-7, must have dreamed of future glory days.
How the script eventually turns out for the Pioneers, who are in their first year of GLIAC play, remains to be seen. On this night, the outcome could be likened to what happened every time familiar Cheers patron Norm entered the saloon – he was greeted by a chorus calling out his name.
By the end of this evening, the game had a familiar ring to it, too. The Eagles won, 31-7 to go 8-0, 7-0 in the GLIAC. This is the first time AU has been 8-0 since 1972.
Give the Pioneers credit for this – they stepped out of character. They did not look like a team that entered this game 1-5. Defensively, they ran to the ball well and offensively, the Pioneers weren't shy about taking some chances (they ran a fake punt for a first down and called two halfback passes). AU quarterback Taylor Housewright (Ashland, Ohio) was able to throw the ball down the field with success (19-of-30, 309 yards) and senior wide receiver Anthony Capasso (Columbia Station, Ohio/St. Edward) had five catches for 123 yards. Sophomore tailback Anthony Taylor (Arlington, Va./Washington-Lee) rushed for a career-high 212 yards on 22 carries (9.6 ypc.) with two touchdowns. Still, nothing came easy for AU.
In addition to improved play on Malone's part, AU, in the first half, fumbled twice and lost one of those drops and was penalized four times for 44 yards. The list of infractions included two holding calls and a roughing-the-punter call. The Eagles also gave up a 64-yard touchdown pass with 7:04 left in the first quarter. Malone's Josh McLaughlin was wide open and had little difficulty hauling in quarterback Will Szpor's throw. That broke a string of six consecutive scoreless quarters by the AU defense.
That throw tied the game, 7-7. AU took a 7-0 lead with 8:09 left in the opening quarter when Housewright, from punt formation, threw a 74-yard touchdown pass to Brian Gamble (Massillon, Ohio/Illinois). That is Ashland's longest pass play of the season. Gamble, who is normally a defensive back, was playing in his home area and if his wish was to be on the field as much as possible, it's apparent that the coaching staff was on board with that goal. Gamble played in the secondary and he appeared at wide receiver early in the game (normally that duty doesn't come until late in the first half). He also returned punts.
The Eagles took a 10-7 lead with 9:52 left in the first half on a 22-yard field goal by redshirt freshman Cameron Casey (Rochester, Mich./Adams). That was Casey's seventh field goal in as many tries. Six of his field goals have come from inside 30 yards.
The Eagles forced Malone into a critical mistake late in the first half. The Pioneers tried to run wide with an option play and Szpor's pitch was errant. Junior linebacker Cody Bloom (Napoleon, Ohio) fell on the football at the Malone 37-yardline with 1:53 left to play before the break. Seventeen seconds later the Eagles were in the end zone, Taylor breaking free for a 37-yard touchdown run. That was Taylor's sixth rushing touchdown of the season and Casey's extra point gave the Eagles a 17-7 halftime lead. On the season, the Eagles have outscored the opposition, 173-49 in the first half.
The Eagles stretched their lead to 24-7 with 3:40 remaining in the third quarter on Housewright's 20th touchdown pass of the year, a 23-yard strike to Capasso. This is the second time in his career Housewright has had 20 or more touchdown passes in a season. His career high is 24 in 2010.
By this time, the defense had settled in and the Pioneers shut down at roughly the same time as the stores two miles up the road at Belden Village. The Pioneers managed five yards of total offense in the third quarter. Gamble got his second interception of the season in the final minute of the quarter. The Pioneers had no running game – they gained 60 yards on the ground. In the last two weeks, AU has allowed 120 yards rushing.
The final score of the night came on an 82-yard run by Taylor. That's the longest run by an AU player this season and it put the Eagles on top, 31-7.
Ashland led in total yardage, 627-224.
Bloom had a team-high 10 tackles (four solo).
The Eagles host Findlay next Saturday (Oct. 27, 1 p.m.). The Oilers are 5-2 and defeated Lake Erie, 41-17 on Saturday.