Story and photo courtesy of Ashland Athletics
The wake-up call the Findlay Oilers delivered to the Ashland Eagles early Saturday (Oct. 27) afternoon reverberated through Jack Miller Stadium/Martinelli Field like the peals of Big Ben.
Two hours and 34 minutes later, however, there was no doubt who had their bells rung. The Eagles slammed the Oilers like they were a runaway snooze button, scoring the game's next 35 points on the way to a 42-21 victory.
The Oilers scored on their first possession of the game to take a 7-0 lead over the sixth-ranked, undefeated Eagles. AU fans started to squirm in their seats because maybe this Findlay team (5-3/5-3 GLIAC) had the weapons to spoil the Eagles' undefeated season. Northern Michigan and Ohio Dominican had scored early in the game this season to take 7-0 leads over the Eagles (9-0/8-0), but this was Findlay, the wicked rival from the West.
AU fans may have been alarmed, but the Eagles themselves never seemed to get hot and bothered. After that opening drive by the Oilers, a 12-play, 75-yard drive that chewed up 6:59 and ended with a 13-yard scoring pass from quarterback Clay Belton to wide receiver Lloyd Henry, the Eagles responded with a 17-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Taylor Housewright (Ashland, Ohio) to wide receiver Dan Piko (Oak Lawn, Ill./Marist Academy). That came with 6:09 left in the first quarter.
Findlay failed to score on its next five drives. Meanwhile, the Eagles scored on all three of their first half possessions to take a 21-7 lead. AU was 6-for-6 on third down in the first half. With 6:09 left in the half, sophomore tailback Jordan McCune (Bellville, Ohio/Clear Fork) scored the first of his four touchdowns, this on a 4-yard run for a 14-7 Ashland lead. With 1:16 remaining in the half, Housewright combined with tight end Logan Slavinski (Bellville, Ohio/Clear Fork) on a 5-yard touchdown pass. Redshirt freshman Cameron Casey's (Rochester, Mich./Adams) drilled the extra point for a 21-7 lead.
"As a team, we try to play 60 minutes," offered Housewright, when asked about Findlay's fast start. "Only the final score matters. You have to stay poised. I guess it was big, but we're never too down, never too high. We just play the game."
The numbers indicate that they play it well. AU is 9-0 for the first time since 1972. This victory locked up the GLIAC South Division title. The Eagles are in position to win the overall GLIAC title. This is also the highest ranked Ashland team since the 1972 team was ranked fifth in the nation.
Findlay had the ball for 12:45 in the first quarter, Saturday. The Oilers were looking to hold onto the ball as long as possible and keep the Ashland offense off the field. That worked for a quarter, but once the Eagle defense adjusted, the Oilers were in trouble.
"That's the only thing I felt good about today," remarked UF head coach Rob Keys, when asked about the opening drive. "They responded like a great football team and except for that, there was never a time we were in the game."
"Any time you're playing a rivarly game there's going to be a lot of emotion," added AU head coach Lee Owens. "If they get a stop it starts to accumulate. The only way you control that emotional level of play is to answer."
On the opening drive, Belton was able to pick away at the Eagles and pick up first downs with crisp, short passes. Belton leaned heavily on tailback Monterae Williams, one of the best backs in the GLIAC. Williams ended the game with 83 yards on 24 carries. He had 46 of his yards in the first quarter.
"I think their goal was to keep our offense off the field," said senior defensive lineman Tyler Houska (Wadsworth, Ohio/Highland), who had a pair of sacks. "We didn't change much. We talked, we re-grouped. That first drive we had them third-and-three, third-and-four a couple of times and didn't stop them. We re-grouped and came out ready to go."
The Eagles never gave the Findlay defense a chance to get situated. In AU's first scoring drive, Piko caught a 45-yard pass, a result of a blown coverage, reported Keys. AU was able to throw the ball down the field with regularity and pick up major yards. Housewright completed 12-of-17 passes for 170 yards (14.2 yards per gain per completion) without an interception. Piko had two catches for 62 yards and sophomore wide receiver Eric Thompkins (Canton, Ohio/South) had three catches for 56 yards.
Why didn't Housewright throw more? The answer to that is easy – he didn't need to. AU rushed for 277 yards. Over the last two games, the Eagles have rushed for 595 yards (297.5 rushing yards per game). For the year, AU is averaging 210.3 ypg., on the ground.
Sophomore tailback Anthony Taylor (Arlington, Va./Washington-Lee) went over 150 yards for the second straight game with 165 yards on 24 carries. He ripped off a 59-yard run. Last week at Malone, Taylor had 212 yards and an 82-yard scamper. This week, he was the back who would get the ball within spitting distance of the goal line and the Eagles would turn to McCune. McCune had 65 yards on 12 carries and his last three scoring runs measured 7, 11 and 3 yards. He's the first AU player to have four rushing touchdowns in a game since Jon Schroeder at Mercyhurst on Sept. 29, 2007.
"My legs are tremendous, fresh," said McCune, when asked to compare how he feels this year after nine games compared to last season. "This year I've taken on a different role, I've stepped back a little bit. Anthony Taylor's a good back, we're splitting time, splitting carries.
"You get 10 yards away from the goal line, six yards away from the goal line, you want to get to that purple," continued McCune. "It comes down to the determination I have and the line has."
AU put the game away with 14 third quarter points. On Ashland's second drive of the quarter, facing a third-and-seven play from the AU 12-yardline, Housewright, scrambled for 14 yards and a first down. On the next play, Taylor broke free for that 59-yard run to the UF 15-yardline. Two plays later, McCune was in the end zone after a 7-yard run and Ashland led, 28-7.
"That was the big play," said Owens of Housewright's run.
Housewright said he wouldn't have had to run if he had read the play properly, worked the other side of the field and spotted the receiver that was open. No matter. That's the kind of year it's been for the Eagles.
"This is achampionship team," said Keys. "That's why they're the GLIAC South champions and probably the GLIAC champions when all's said and done. They're a great team. It's not the running game, the passing game, it's the entire process. That's what makes them so good."
This is only the second time Keys has coached against the Eagles so he's relatively new to this rivalry. Ashland has a six-game winning streak against the Oilers and Owens is 8-1 against Findlay. All week, the Eagles talked about how they were going to get the Oilers' best shot and that there could be no lack of focus on the seven days leading up to this battle. Keys talked as if he had a hard time believing that.
"They've beaten us the last five years," he said. "This is just another game for Ashland."
AU led in total yardage, 447-391. The Eagles ended the day 9-of-13 (69.2 percent) on third down. Senior defensive back Mike McMillan (Hagerstown, Md./Mendocino C.C.), junior linebacker Cody Bloom (Napoleon, Ohio) and junior defensive lineman Jamie Meder (Parma, Ohio/Valley Forge) had 10 tackles each.
Belton was 24-of-38 passing for 288 yards. He was sacked three times and picked off once – by defensive back Brian Gamble (Massillon, Ohio/Illinois), w ho got his team-leading third interception. UF wideout Seth White had nine catches for 107 yards and linebacker Brandon Butler had 14 tackles. Linebacker Eric Palmore-Lett had 12 tackles.
Ashland plays at Tiffin next Saturday (Nov. 3, 1:30 p.m.).