Eagles fall to Grand Valley State in playoffs

Chris Snow

There is a saying in football that things do not always go as planned. For the Ashland University Eagles, that adage proved to be true.

Ashland fell to Grand Valley State University 45-28 in a first round Super Regional 4 matchup Saturday afternoon at Jack Miller Stadium.

The recipe for success for the Eagles the first time that they played the Lakers, a 45-31 victory on Halloween, was running the football on offense and defensively stopping the run.

This time around, Grand Valley flipped the script on Ashland. The Lakers ran for 230 yards on offense, while defensively allowing only 81 yards rushing.

“We put ourselves in a hole early,” said Ashland coach Lee Owens.  “We couldn’t get the throwing game going which helps to set up the run game. When you can’t run the ball you are going to be in trouble. That’s the difference in the game. They ran the ball and we didn’t.”

Behind running backs Kirk Spencer and Marty Carter, the Lakers were able to consistently move the ball throughout the game. Spencer finished with 105 yards and a touchdown, while Carter ran for 99 yards and two touchdowns.

 For Ashland’s offense, it was hard to get any rhythm going for much of the contest.

“The way we play versus their defense, you know they are going to load the box and put more guys in there than you can block,” said Owens. “And we’ve been able to beat them in the past because we’ve executed those throws that we didn’t execute early in the game. And that would loosen them up, and get our run game going. But when that didn’t happen, we kind of got in a tailspin.”

The Eagles finished the game with 357 yards of offense.

Quarterback Travis Tarnowski was 27 for 49 for 276 yards and three touchdowns through the air. He also threw three interceptions in the game.

Owens had some advice for his quarterback after the game.

“What I tried to talk to Travis about at the end of the game was that we are going to work our tails off in the regular season (next year) and try and get back in the playoffs,” said Owens.

Leading the Eagles in receiving was tight end Adam Shaheen, who caught eight passes for 94 yards.

Also contributing to the offensive effort was running back Vance Settlemire, who added 80 yards of offense and three touchdowns.

The game initially looked promising for Ashland, as their defense forced Grand Valley’s quarterback Bart Williams to throw interceptions on the Lakers first two possessions.

The Eagles’ offense was able to turn the second interception into a touchdown, when Tarnowski found Settlemire through the air for a 13-yard touchdown, giving the Eagles a 7-0 lead.

The Eagles maintained that lead until a Tarnowski interception set the Lakers’ offense up at the Eagles 4-yard line. On the next play, Spencer ran the ball into the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown. A Joel Schipper extra point tied the game at 7-7.

The Lakers would take a 14-7 lead at the beginning of the second quarter, when Carter capped a 10-play, 65-yard drive with a 17-yard touchdown run.

Grand Valley never trailed from that point forward.

Linebacker Brandon Gency and free safety Terrell Hudson stood out defensively for the Eagles. Gency finished the game with 13 tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss and one interception, while Hudson chipped in 13 tackles.

Ashland returns 12 All-GLIAC players next season that now have a taste of the playoffs. That experience could pay dividends for the Eagles next season.

“I think a lot of guys in our locker room now have had that experience (making the playoffs) and know what it took to get there, and maybe have a better idea of what it takes to win there,” said Owens.

Grand Valley moves on to face Ferris State in the second round of Super Regional 4. Ferris State beat Texas A & M Commerce 48-30.