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Eagles earn GLIAC title with 31-19 victory

Megan Furby

Megan Furby

Steven Shrenkle

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The Ashland Eagles defeated the Saginaw Valley State Cardinals 31-19 in a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference matchup that saw AU take the GLIAC crown in Jack Miller Stadium/Martinelli Field.

Ashland is 10-1 overall and an undefeated 9-0 in GLIAC play. With the victory, they won their first outright GLIAC title in five years. The Cardinals have now fallen to 5-6 overall and 3-6 in the conference.

It wasn’t an easy victory by any means, just as AU head coach Lee Owens had suspected it wouldn’t be after coming off of a big win against Grand Valley State last week.

“From the very beginning of the week I was concerned,” Owens said. “It’s hard coming off of a big win, going toward the end of the year, and to not stay focused.”

Saginaw Valley State and Ashland traded multiple defensive stops to kick off the game. This would be before the Eagles drove down the field to set up senior kicker Aidan Simenc nailed a 38-yard field goal make the game 3-0 with 1:26 left to go in the first quarter.

The Cardinals would have their turn at scoring as they put together their own 75-yard drive where quarterback Ryan Conklin would find the end zone for a 4-yard rushing touchdown. This gave Saginaw Valley State a 3-7 lead early into the second quarter.

After Ashland couldn’t get anything going on their next possession, Saginaw Valley State found the end zone yet again on a 73-yard touchdown pass from Conklin to wide receiver Chad Gailliard. This increased the Cardinals lead 3-13 after a missed extra point.

Owens reflected on the team’s sluggish start and how huge it was to have home field advantage.

“We didn’t have as much energy as we normally do,” Owens said. “Thank goodness we were at home.”

The score remained that way until the Eagles finally answered back with an 80-yard drive that was capped off with a 1-yard touchdown rush by junior fullback Mack Mikulski. The touchdown closed the gap 10-13 before the end of the first half.

It was the first time this season that Ashland trailed at the half. Owens went over what he said to the team at halftime.

“We woke them up at halftime,” Owens said. “We told them we were not as good as everyone is telling us we are. Let’s play.”

What was told to the Eagles at halftime seemed to work as AU looked like a completely different team on both ends of the ball.

Ashland kicked off the second half with a quick score when senior quarterback Travis Tarnowski found freshman wide receiver Logan Bolin for an eight-yard touchdown pass. This gave the Eagles a 17-13 advantage very early on in the third quarter.

AU’s defense would come through on the next several possessions as they limited the Cardinals from being able to get back into the game.

Junior defensive end James Prater Jr. led the way for the defense as he tied AU’s single game record sack record with 312 sacks. He spoke on the defensive effort in the second half.

“We knew that they were having their receivers stop at sticks and trying to get the ball there,” Prater Jr. said. “We knew that we had to get more pressure defensive line-wise. That’s what we did.”

The Eagles offense and Tarnowski would capitalize on the defensive efforts with a 15-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Stanley Jackson Jr. to ice the game. This gave Ashland an 24-13 lead.

AU extended their lead one more time when Tarnowski found the end zone yet again, this time with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Mikulski. The score gave the Eagles an insurmountable 31-13 lead with 4:45 left to go in the fourth quarter.

Tarnowski spoke on the dynamics of the game.

“We dug ourselves a little bit of a hole early,” Tarnowski said. “I don’t think we ever lost faith in each other, or had any sense of panic or anything like that. We didn’t change much at halftime, just needed to execute better.”

Saginaw Valley State would have the final score of the game with a 4-yard touchdown pass from Conklin to wide receiver Josh Schelke. This made the final score 31-19.

The Eagles finished the game with 256 passing yards to go along with 151 rushing yards. They had a total of 407-yards on the offense end for the game.

Tarnowski finished the day with 256 passing yards along with three touchdown passes. He has thrown 92 touchdown passes in GLIAC games, setting a new conference record.

With junior running back Andrew Vaughn out with an injury, Sophomore running back Keishaun Sims finished the game on 66 rushing yards.

Bolin led Ashland’s receiving corps with 94-yards and a touchdown haul. He set career highs with his receiving yards and nine receptions. Jackson Jr. also chipped in 60 receiving yards to go along with a touchdown.

On the defensive end, Prater Jr. finished the game with nine total tackles. Senior stud Austin Utter had four tackles, two tackles for a loss, and a sack. In the secondary, Senior safety Kevin Bourne contributed 11 total tackles and two pass breakups. Senior cornerback Dale Irby chipped in five total tackles, an interception, and two pass breakups.

Ashland’s senior class finished their careers having never lost a home regular-season game.

Owens reflected on the triumphs of the season and credits much of that to the senior class of this year.

“We’ve got some warriors in our senior class,” Owens said. “It was fun. To go 9-0 in this conference, it’s a tribute to that group of players. It’s a big-time accomplishment.”

AU will find out who and where they will play next Saturday during the NCAA Division II postseason selection show on Sunday at 5 p.m. It is almost virtually guaranteed that it will be a home game.

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