Eagles finish 2016 season 9-2

Noah Cloonan

From a big time win on national television to breaking records to winning their second straight Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference South title the Eagles football team has many great things to look back on.

It was a year full of ups and downs for the Ashland University Football team, but their season has come to a close, as they were not selected as one of the seven teams from Super Region 4 to make the playoffs.

The Eagles will finish the 2016 season ranked No. 16 with an overall record of 9-2 and a 7-2 record in the GLIAC.

It all started back on April 21 as the Eagles played in their annual spring game. The Eagles, coming off of an undefeated regular season in 2015, were ready to make some noise in 2016.

The Eagles garnered national attention as they entered the season ranked No. 6 in the AFCA Division II Coaches poll. They opened the season up against an out of conference opponent as the Mercyhurst Lakers came to Jack Miller Stadium.

The Eagles started the season off with a bang as they routed the Lakers 48-0 as they moved up to No. 5 in the polls.

Week two brought a much bigger challenge as the Wayne State Warriors came to town. The Eagles started off slow as they trailed 12-6 going into the half. AU responded in the second half as they outscored the Warriors 30-13 en route to the 36-25 victory.

In week three the Eagles played their final GLIAC matchup against their rivals the Findlay Oilers. The Eagles dominated from the start and beat the Oilers 35-3. The Oilers will be leaving the GLIAC to join the Great Midwest Athletic Conference, starting in 2017.

The Eagles then traveled to Big Rapids, Mich. to take on their biggest challenge of the season. In a nationally televised game against the No. 7 ranked Ferris State Bulldogs, the Eagles trailed 31-17 entering the half.

AU responded in the second half and outscored the Bulldogs 22-0 as they came out on top 39-31. At this point the Eagles were cruising as they were 4-0 for the second straight season with a date with Tiffin set up in week five.

Tiffin came out strong and it was a perfect storm for the Dragons as everything went their way as they handed the Eagles their first loss of the season, 35-32. The Eagles had over 500 yards of total offense and Adam Shaheen had three touchdowns catches in the game as he launched his way into a historic season.

Ashland responded as they scored 178 points in their next three games as they defeated Northwood, Lake Erie and Kentucky Wesleyan. The Eagles were in a good spot when the first regional rankings were released on Oct. 24 as they held the No. 4 spot after their one loss to Tiffin.

The Eagles tried to defend that ranking as they traveled to Michigan Tech to take on the Huskies, a place where the Eagles had lost two years ago.

AU had a 10-play, 91-yard drive to give themselves a 21-17 lead with just over two to play. The Huskies had one final chance and they capitalized as they went 75 yards and found the end zone to hand the Eagles their second loss of the season.

Despite the loss the Eagles still held onto the seventh spot in the regional rankings and looked as if they would secure their second straight NCAA postseason appearance.

A 56-0 win over the Walsh Cavaliers had the Eagles even more confident in their standing in the region, but when the third set of rankings were released they told a different story for the Eagles. The Eagles had improbably dropped to ninth in the region.

It was not what the Eagles had expected, but their was still work to be done as they had a chance to capture their second straight GLIAC South Championship against the Ohio Dominican Panthers with a playoff birth on the line.

 AU made the trip to Columbus and in one of their most complete games of the year defeated the Panthers, 34-21 and clinched the GLIAC South title.

“There was a group of fans from Ashland, true, core fans, fans that have been there from the beginning, parents that had been there all year long, alums, the core of who supports this program, they were at that game and they cheered from beginning to end and they walked out of that game feeling like we just won the national championship game,” head coach Lee Owens said after the victory over ODU. “That was the highlight of the season for me.”

Now it was a waiting game for the Eagles as they awaited the NCAA Division II selection show on Nov. 13.

The Eagles were gathered together in Upper Convo at their end of the season awards banquet as they awaited the news of whether or not they would play another game

The announcement came and to the shock of many there would be no postseason football for the Ashland Eagles.

The national committee chose to take two teams from the GLIAC (Grand Valley State and Ferris State) and Ashland was not one of the teams selected.

“I just felt that this team had a shot, you know, they had a shot,” Owens said. “When we were on, we were as good as anybody in the country and it was total, it was offense, defense and it was special teams.”

It was not the ending to the season that the Eagles were hoping for but they had their fair share of memorable moments during their second straight GLIAC South title run.

NFL prospect, Adam Shaheen, dominated opponents all season as he hauled in his 16th touchdown catch of the season against Ohio Dominican as he set a Division II record for most touchdown catches in a season by a tight end.

Shaheen ended the season with 57 receptions for 867 yards and 16 touchdowns. He will have a decision to make over the next couple of weeks on whether or not he will declare for the NFL draft or if he will return to AU for his senior season.

One man for the Eagles that will not be returning for the Eagles next season is senior running back, Vance Settlemire. Settlemire will end his career at AU with 44 career touchdowns, as he will fall just one TD short of Anthony Taylor’s school record.

Settlemire led the team in rushing with 925 yards and a touchdown despite missing time with an injury.

The Eagles won’t be stripped on offense however, as Settlemire is the only skill player that will not be in uniform next season.

Quarterback Travis Tarnowski had another stellar season as he threw for 2,989 yards and 34 touchdowns with just six interceptions. Tarnowski surpassed Billy Cundiff with his 80th passing touchdown to become the all-time leading passer in AU history.

Settlemire, Tarnowski, Shaheen, nose tackle Brandon Ehlinger, right guard Zachary Douglass, linebacker Brandon Gency and safety Terrell Hudson were all named to the All-GLIAC first team.

Overall, 14 AU football players earned 2016 GLIAC season-ending honors.

Ashland finished fourth in the nation in total offense as they averaged 525.6 yards per game. The Eagles also led the country in third-down conversion percentage with a 59.5 conversion rate.

While the offense proved to be one of the best in the nation, the defense did its part in the 9-2 season.

The defense ranked seventh in scoring defense as they gave up just 15.1 points per game and were 15th in total defense as they gave up just 297.5 yards per game.

The Eagles will lose their three leading tacklers next season as Brandon Gency (76), Zach Olszewski (73) and Terrell Hudson (67) will all graduate this year.

“We will get over this, we will move forward,” Owens said. “Overall it’s bigger than just this game and this season. I think we’ve put a program together and a process together and a culture together that we just move on and we get ready for [Indiana University of Pennsylvania] and we just keep winning games.”