Story and photo courtesy of Ashland Athletics
Perfect game? Close.
No-hitter? No way.
No brainer. All the way.
In the final regular season game of the season Saturday (Nov. 10) at Jack Miller Stadium/Martinelli Field, the Ashland University Eagles led from start to finish in a 65-0 win over Notre Dame.
The win gives the Eagles an 11-0 record, 10-0 in the GLIAC. This is the fourth time in school history AU has finished the regular season unbeaten. It's the first unblemished regular season mark since 1972. Here's what's different about this bunch, it's won the first GLIAC football championship in school history. It will receive a bye in the first round of the GLIAC playoffs. That field is announced on Sunday (Nov. 11). Ashland is ranked fifth in the country and second in the region. The playoff berth will be the fifth in school history, the third under head coach Lee Owens.
After this game, no one should need any convincing that the Eagles belong in the postseason field of 24 teams. This was the second biggest margin of victory in school history, exceeded only by the 70-point win against Lake Erie (87-17) in 2010.
"I thought in the first half there was a level of intensity we hadn't seen since early in the season against Indy and Wayne State," said Owens. "We challenged our guys. That's the kind of motivation you need at the end of the year going into the playoffs."
On offense, the Eagles were scoring with ease. This was their second 60-point game of the year – Ashland has 68 against Lake Erie in September. AU set a school single-game record for first downs (34) and had 422 yards rushing, which is in the neighborhood of the school record of 447 yards (vs. Otterbein, 1970). AU had 635 yards of total offense.
But what was most impressive was the way the Eagles throttled the NDC offense. These Falcons (3-8/2-8 GLIAC) demonstrated all year that they knew the way to the end zone. Tailback Pedro Powell is the leading rusher in the GLIAC and is one of the most productive backs in the country. AU held Powell to 35 yards on 17 carries. NDC had 32 yards rushing and 125 passing for a total of 157 yards. The Eagles picked off three passes and recorded three sacks.
"I don't think they ever got started against our defense," offered Owens. "Our guys took it personal. That's the kind of intensity and preparation we've got to have from this point forward."
This was Ashland's third shutout of the season. That's the most in a season since the 1993 team shut out four foes.
"We respected their offense and did what we had to do," said junior linebacker Cody Bloom (Napoleon, Ohio), who had five tackles and became the first AU player with two consecutive seasons of 100 or more tackles since Devin Conwell in 2003-04. "We were ready to play. We came out all week and practiced hard. We probably had some of our best practices of the year the last couple of days."
"They had a tough running back, a lot of power," said senior defensive back Jacob Lerman (Cincinnati, Ohio/Moeller), who picked off a pair of passes. "That was our main focus."
Throughout this year, the Falcons had done a great job of controlling the football, averaging over 70 plays per game on offense. In this game, NDC couldn't do that and the Eagles got into a rhythm on offense. Against Ashland, the Falcons ran 52 plays. On their first 12 drives, none went longer than four plays.
Offensively, the honor roll for the Eagles was long and distinguished. Sophomore running back Anthony Taylor (Arlington, Va./Washington-Lee) gained 77 yards on 16 carries with four touchdowns. He has 1,042 yards. That is the first 1,000-yard season of his career and it's the first 1,000-yard season by an AU back since D.J. McCoy had 1,344 yards in 2010.
Another sophomore back, Jordan McCune (Bellville, Ohio/Clear Fork), had a career-high 178 yards on 12 carries. He averaged 14.8 ypc. Senior tailback Justen White-Reid (Akron, Ohio/Copley) had 111 yards on 11 trips (10.1 ypc.) with a 12-yard TD run. AU averaged 7.4 ypc., on 57 attempts.
"They were putting guys in the box and we were still able to run the ball," gushed senior quarterback Taylor Housewright (Ashland, Ohio), who became the second quarterback in school history to have 30 or more touchdown passes in a season (he has 30 on the nose).
Housewright complained that the passing game wasn't as crisp as usual – he was on target with 16-of-23 passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns. What did work all day were passes thrown in the direction of sophomore tight end Logan Slavinski (Bellville, Ohio/Clear Fork). He caught four passes for 56 yards with touchdown receptions of 13 and 4 yards. Slavinski has five touchdown catches this season and four have come in the last three weeks. Since he got healthy and got comfortable making the move from H-Back to tight end Slavinski has been a reliable outlet in the passing game.
"He didn't cry or moan that he wasn't playing," reminded Housewright of Slavinski's demeanor early in the season. "He was ready when his number was called."
No one's crying or moaning in Ashland now. Up next, on Nov. 24, is a playoff game in Ashland. That will be the point of focus for the Eagles over the next 14 days. Throughout this season the Eagles have been exceptional at maintaining their vision on only the goal at hand. Saturday, their head coach loosened the blinders for a minute.
"We have a lot of older guys on our staff and no one's ever been on an undefeated team in college," said Owens. "It's so unusual to go undefeated in college football. The distractions you have today, all of you guys, the computers. It's unbelievable you can stay focused each week, not lose focus, not look ahead, not look behind. It's a great credit to our guys."