Eagles down undefeated Saginaw Valley 21-17 for home victory

Steve Shrenkel

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The Ashland University football team returned home on Saturday (Oct. 6) night after a tough road loss against Ferris State to take on the undefeated Saginaw Valley State Cardinals looking for a win. The Eagles downed the Cardinals 21-17 at Jack Miller Stadium/Martinelli Field.

With the win, AU improved its record to 3-3 overall and 3-1 in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Saginaw Valley State is now 5-1 and 2-1 in the GLIAC.

The game winning touchdown for the Eagles came from a 10-yard touchdown pass from redshirt freshman quarterback Austin Brenner to senior running back Andrew Vaughn late in the fourth quarter.

A 45-minute lighting delay stopped the game with 1:47 left to go, but after the weather cleared up, AU took three knees to run out the clock.

Vaughn said that the win is a definite momentum booster for the Eagles

“It feels great and there’s a lot of fight left in this team,” Vaughn said. “We’ve taken it to the wire with numerous opponents, great opponents, top-five ranked opponents, and to finish against a 5-0 team at the end, that’s a great feeling. They’re a good team. They’re going to win some more games, and hopefully this is a momentum booster for us.”

The Cardinals had one final chance to try and win the game before the delay but the Eagles defense, which had already forced a turnover earlier on in the second half, picked off quarterback Ryan Conklin to seal the win.

Ashland’s defensive charge was led by senior defensive end James Prater Jr., who became the program’s all-time leader in tackles for loss with two TFL’s for the game. He also had two sacks, six tackles and two pass breakups. Prater Jr. has a total of 40 career tackles for loss as an Eagle.

While Prater Jr. was happy to earn the record, he just wanted to make sure AU got the win, he said.

“Of course I’m excited about the record and it was really important to me but I just wanted the win today,” Prater Jr. said. “I was really focused on being a team player and getting the win this week and we did which was awesome.”

Eagles head coach Lee Owens said they had to make some second half adjustments to earn more possessions.

“We realized in the second half we were going to have to be a little more wide-open, and try to find a way to generate more possessions and ways to score,” Owens said. “We found a way to finish. The defense played well.”

Saginaw Valley began the game on fire offensively as they went 68-yards in 15 plays before scoring on a two-yard touchdown pass from Conklin to wide receiver Chad Gailliard to give them an early 7-0 lead with 7:49 remaining in the first quarter.

Ashland would counter right back to tie up the game right before the end of the first with a 57-yard bomb from Brenner to sophomore wide receiver Logan Bolin, the Eagles longest play of the season to date.

Early on in the second quarter, AU would find the endzone yet again, taking advantage of a short field driving 42-yards, before Vaughn punched the ball in with a one-yard touchdown run to give them a 14-7 edge.

Saginaw Valley countered this with an 75-yard drive in 18 plays, leading up to a 25-yard field goal make by kicker Connor Luksic to make the game 14-10 at the end of the first half.

The Cardinals were able to take advantage of a miscue by the Eagles special teams after a muffed punt at the AU 5 to help set up a seven-yard touchdown pass from Conklin to wide receiver Dominick Fiscelli for a 17-14 SVSU advantage.

Ashland went on to score their game winning touchdown in the fourth quarter with a 51-yard drive capped off by the 10-yard connection from Brenner to Vaughn and 5:28 left to go in the game.

It was at this point that mother nature started to factor into the game as heavy rain poured from the skies and onto the field. Each teams traded punts before Saginaw Valley got the ball back with 2:04 to play on its own 32-yard line.

This was when the Eagles defense forced a game-winning turnover with senior cornerback Isiah Roberts picking off Conklin to seal it.

Owens said he was pleased with the team’s performance and that the interception clinched the game.

“We’re a better team now than we were earlier in the year, and we’ve found a way to finish,” Owens said. “We got that interception at the end of the game to really clinch it.”

Brenner finished the game strong going 14-for-25 for 180-yards and two-touchdown passes.

He said that he continues to feel more comfortable as the signal caller as each week goes on.

“Every week you learn something new out there,” Brenner said. “It’s one thing practicing, it’s another being in the game but each week you learn something new and try to learn off that. I have a long way to go and a lot of room to continue to improve on.”

Vaughn led the Eagles ground game with 48 rushing yards and one touchdown. He was followed by Brenner who also had 17-rushing yards.

AU’s receiving corps was led by Bolin who finished the game with 78-yards and a touchdown. Vaughn was the second leading receiver with 46 receiving yards of his own to go with a touchdown catch.

The Eagles defense limited the Cardinals to just 89 rushing yards on the day while allowing 167 passing yards from SVSU and forcing two turnovers. AU now has a season average of allowing just 101.8 ground yards for 2018.

The Eagles will have a bye week next week before having to face the Michigan Tech Huskies (2-4, 0-4) at home on Saturday (Oct. 20) at 1 p.m.

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