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Eagles host the Cardinals in GLIAC battle

Zach Read

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Two wins and three losses is not something the Ashland University football team is accustomed to; it is not something Eagle Nation is not accustomed to.

The last time the Eagles (2-3, 2-1 GLIAC) were under .500 at the halfway point of the season was 2013 when they started off 0-3 and won the next two games to hold this same mark at the halfway point.

Could this be an unexpected rebuilding season for the Eagles?

The Eagles will try not to make the 2018 campaign a rebuilding season as they have a chance to get back to .500 this Saturday (Oct. 6) at home against another unbeaten GLIAC opponent, Saginaw Valley State.

AU lost to No. 3 ranked Ferris State on Sept. 29 by a score of 28-21. Although it falls into the lost column, the Eagles were able to put up a fight against the number one offense in NCAA Division II. The Eagle’s offense outgained the Bulldog’s offense, 413-398 and AU’s defense held FSU’s premiere rushing attack to 126 yards on 42 attempts.

“Our effort at Ferris would have ranked in the top four or five efforts of any team I have coached since I have been here,” Ashland head coach Lee Owens said. “But it’s a lost, not anything good comes out of it.”

Junior inside linebacker Clay Shreve had a standout game against the Bulldogs as he recorded 16 tackles and 2 ½ sacks. Shreve boosted his season stats to 53 total tackles to lead the GLIAC, and has 4 ½ sacks and five tackles for loss.

However, after giving up 272 yards and two passing touchdowns in the air against the Bulldogs, it is clear that the defensive backs are the weak linkss in the Eagles defense this season. After their two starting corners graduated last year, the Eagles have given up 11 passing touchdowns in five games.

“That is where we have really been tested,” Owens said. “We have to be more effective in our pass defense. We’re giving up too many touchdown throws and too high of a completion percentage.”

Against the Bulldogs, Eagles senior wide receiver Kameron Green had eight catches for 95 yards to move into ninth place on the program’s all-time receptions list (115).

Redshirt-sophomore tight end Michael Schweitzer, who played in all 13 games in the 2017 season having recorded six touchdowns, has only played in two games this season. He was able to get in the mix Saturday against the Bulldogs as he had four catches for 78 yards and one touchdown.

The Eagles will be changing up their kicking game this week due to the fact that sophomore kicker Satchel Denton has not been producing well on kickoffs.

The Cardinals (5-0, 2-0) of Saginaw Valley State come into Jack Miller Stadium with a lot of confidence but similar to Ferris State, they have played a weaker schedule through the first half of the season with their opponents accumulating only five wins.

“This is an excellent defensive football team and big physical defensive football team who shut out their last opponent,” Owens said.

The Cardinals are led by one of the best quarterback-wide receiver duos in the GLIAC and possibly the country too. Junior quarterback Ryan Conklin is just under 1,000 passing yards in five games with 991 and 454 of those yards have gone to his favorite target, sophomore wide receiver Chad Gailliard.

In 83 completions and eight passing touchdowns by Conklin on the season, Gailliard has caught 30 of those receptions and six touchdowns.

“Those two guys are really tough to stop and they are a big part of their offense,” Owens said.

Receiving the bulk of the rushing attack for the Cardinals has been senior running back Jermaih Johnson with 290 yards on 74 carries and two touchdowns. His counterpart, sophomore running back Nate McCrary has the majority of rushing touchdowns on the team with six and has also carried the ball 51 times for 177 yards.

On the defensive side of the ball the Cardinals have some playmakers as well. This is a defense that has 15 total takeaways in five games, 10 interceptions and five fumble recoveries. The Cardinals defense has also combined for 16 sacks and they have 15 players with ten or more tackles.

“Saginaw is very opportunistic with fumble recoveries, interceptions and they have set their offense up on a bunch,” Owens said. “We just have to continue to do what we have done and one thing we have done pretty well is take care of the football.”

The defense is led by senior linebacker Michael Alexander (45 total tackles, one TFL, one interception) who was the week five GLIAC Defensive Player of the Week.

Leading the defensive front is defensive lineman Heath Williams with 29 tackles, 6 ½ sacks and 11 ½ tackles for loss while the Cardinals secondary is led by senior defensive back Dillon Dixon with 30 tackles but junior defensive back Joe Newman leads the squad with three interceptions in five games.

With game six coming up, Owens said that he is in a tight spot right now to keep his guys locked in and focused on the remainder of the season and to keep them bought in.

“The guys who are playing are still giving great effort and still trying to validate where we are at and how good we are,” Owens said. “We’re playing a team that is 5-0 and we are 2-3, they have all the confidence in the world”

The game is set as the Ashland Eagles look to keep the 2018 season hopeful as they host GLIAC opponent Saginaw Valley State at Jack Miller Stadium on Saturday (Oct. 6) at 7 p.m.

The game can be heard live on 88.9 WRDL or at wrdlfm.com or you can watch the Journalism and Digital Media broadcast replays on SportsTime Ohio on Oct. 7 (3 p.m), Oct. 9 (1 p.m.) and Oct. 10 (8 a.m.).

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