Eagles come up just short of victory against No. 4 IUP

Steve Shrenkel, Reporter

The Ashland University football team came up just short of a victory as they fell to the No. 4 ranked Indiana, Pa., 21-17 in the Eagles season opener at Jack Miller Stadium/Martinelli Field Thursday (Aug. 30) night.

The No. 15 ranked Eagles (0-1) saw their regular season home winning streak snapped for the first time in five years by the Crimson Hawks (1-0). The last time Ashland lost a regular season home game was against Ohio Dominican back in 2013.

Even with the season opening loss, Eagles head coach Lee Owens was nonetheless impressed with the team’s overall performance.

“I was impressed with the fight in the players,” Owens said. “I was impressed with, at times, how we played defense and ran the ball. I thought we played a physical football game, and that was the goal.”

The start of the game began as a feeling out process for both teams before IUP got on the board first from a 6-yard touchdown pass from dual-threat quarterback Lenny Williams to wide receiver Ricky Rodgers to put the Crimson Hawks up 7-0 with 2:06 left in the first quarter.

The Eagles, however, got on the board early in the second quarter when sophomore kicker Satchel Denton nailed a 19-yard field goal after Ashland had drove down the field.

AU would get on the board yet again after junior stud Tristan Reichelderfer blocked a field goal by IUP. The Eagles would go on to take the lead after a 6-yard touchdown run by senior running back Andrew Vaughn to make the game 10-7.

Vaughn stated that trying to establish the ground game was a big part of the Eagles game plan coming into the game, he said.

“We wanted to push the ball up the middle,” Vaughn said. “We wanted to set up the pass and that was kind of our game plan today. Our offensive line worked very well. They came off the ball hard and we were able to get some holes.”

The Crimson Hawks would respond immediately on the next possession with Williams carving up the defense and throwing his second touchdown of the night, this time a 20-yard floater to Rodgers to give IUP an 14-10 advantage heading into halftime.

Owens said that the Eagles knew Williams would be a player to watch out for coming into the game, he said.

“He’s a really talented guy,” Owens said. “Great runner, throws the ball well and he keeps his composure. We knew coming in that he’d be strong.”

The start of the third quarter would prove to be messy for both teams as Ashland muffed a punt while the Crimson Hawks would go on to miss a 29-yard field goal on the very next possession.

IUP fared better at the start of the fourth quarter when Williams completed a 34-yard bomb to receiver Dom McNeil to set up yet another touchdown pass to Rodgers to give them a sizeable 21-10 lead.

The Eagles wouldn’t give up, however, as senior quarterback Billy Bahl completed a 14-yard pass to Vaughn. That would set up a 21-yard touchdown dash by running back junior Luke Ogi and an extra point by Satchel to tighten the gap, 21-17 with four minutes left on the clock.

As soon as AU had kicked the extra point, Owen realized he should have gone for a two-point conversion instead of the extra point to put them within a field goal of IUP with the clock winding down, he said.

“I screwed up, we should have gone for two before you ask the question,” Owens said. “I’ve coached hundreds of games and I got caught up in the excitement at that score, believe me. We’ve got 10 coaches in the box with it right in front of them and we all missed it. As we were getting ready to kick it, I knew right then it was too late, so that was a big coaching mistake at the end and it maybe changes how we approach the hurry-up offense, even on third down.

Ashland’s defense would force a three-and-out on the Crimson Hawks on the next possession to give the Eagles a shot at winning the game but the choice to not try for two on the previous drive came back to haunt them.

The Eagles, on their final possession, drove all the way down to the IUP 25 but couldn’t complete the comeback as Bahl was sacked for a loss for 6-yards before their drive ended on a turnover on downs.

Junior inside linebacker Clay Shreve said that the loss was a result of not making plays.

“We had a good game plan and played well but just didn’t make plays when we needed to,” Shreve said. “We’ve got some new guys so we’ll settle in and we’ll be fine.”

Williams finished the game going 19-of-28 with 214 passing yards and three touchdowns for the Crimson Hawks. He also finished the game with 66 rushing yards. Rogers led all receivers with 73-yards and three touchdown catches.

On the other end, Bahl finished going 15-of-21 for 115 passing yards while showing off some surprising mobile ability with 32 rushing yards.

Owens stated he was mostly pleased with Bahl’s performance in his first game as an Ashland Eagle.

“He showed some toughness and got out of the pocket a couple of times,” Owens said. “It’s a big adjustment for him but for the most part he did pretty well out there. He kept his composure and gave us a chance to win so we’ll keep getting better.”

Vaughn finished the game leading in rushing with 133-yards to go along with one touchdown. Behind him, Ogi chipped in 48 rushing yards and a touchdown.

On the defensive side Shreve finished with 10 tackles while senior defensive end James Prater Jr. finished the game with nine tackles, a sack and three tackles for loss.

Up next for the Eagles is their first road game of 2018 with a matchup against the No. 23 Ohio Dominican Panthers on Sept. 8 at 7 p.m.