THE TURNING POINT: Ashland responded to a second-quarter Ohio Dominican touchdown with a four-play touchdown drive of its own, taking a 10-7 lead with 8:43 left in the half.
STAT OF THE GAME: The Eagles have won three South Division titles (2012, 2015, 2016) throughout the seven years of Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference divisional play.
The No. 20-ranked Ashland University football team defeated Ohio Dominican, 34-21, in Columbus on Saturday (Nov. 12) afternoon to win its second consecutive Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference South Division title.
The Eagles, ranked ninth in the final Midwest Region rankings on Monday (Nov. 7), struck first, capping off a 19-play, 9:03 drive with a 33-yard field goal by junior kicker Aidan Simenc. That would be the game's only score in the first quarter.
Ohio Domincan took its only lead of the game with 10:50 remaining in the first half, going up 7-3 on a 21-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Joe Hines.
Ashland responded quickly with a six-yard touchdown from junior quarterback Travis Tarnowski to senior tight end Austin Bruns. That four-play, 1:58 drive highlighted by a 57-yard completion from Tarnowski to sophomore wide receiver Matthew Wilcox, gave the Eagles a 10-7 lead that they'd never give up.
The Eagles would score again just two possessions later, taking a 17-7 lead on a 30-yard touchdown from Tarnowski to junior tight end Adam Shaheen with 3:39 left in the second quarter. That receiving touchdown was Shaheen's 16th this season, giving him the Division II record for most receiving touchdowns in a season by a tight end.
That wasn't the end of things for Ashland in the second quarter, as it would score another touchdown on a 19-yard Tarnowski pass to Wilcox that gave it a 24-7 edge over ODU at halftime. That was Tarnowski's 79th touchdown pass at Ashland, tying him with Billy Cundiff (2006-09) for the school's all-time record.
AU had 236 yards of offense in the first half in comparison to Ohio Dominican's 80. The Eagle defense also recorded five tackles for loss in the half.
The Panthers scored first in the second half, but it wasn't until 12:32 had run off of the third-quarter clock. Nonetheless, Hines found the end zone again on a two-yard run to bring ODU within 10 points of Ashland.
The Eagles scored next on a three-play, 1:23 fourth-quarter drive, as Tarnowski set the Ashland record for touchdown passes in a career on his second 57-yard pass to Wilcox in the game. This time it was a touchdown that gave Ashland a 31-14 lead with 12:06 left in the fourth quarter. Wilcox had three catches in the game and a team-high 133 receiving yards.
Just over seven minutes later, the Eagles scored their last points of the day, ending a seven-play, 57-yard, 4:09 drive with a 35-yard Simenc field goal to take a 34-14 lead.
ODU would score its final points of the day on the ensuing possession on a 17-yard touchdown pass by junior quarterback Grant Russell to redshirt senior running back Justin Davis. At that point, there was only 0:53 to go in the fourth quarter, and the Eagles kneeled out the game shortly thereafter.
Ashland's defense had 12 tackles for loss and five sacks in the game. Senior defensive end Zach Leftenant was responsible for two of those sacks, gaining sole possession of third place on the team with 4.5 on the season. Redshirt senior safety Terrell Hudson, junior whip Toney Peters and sophomore defensive tackle James Prater Jr. all recorded two TFLs, as well.
Ashland senior running back Vance Settlemire had his fifth 100-yard rushing performance of the season in this game, carrying the ball 22 times for 142 yards.
To accompany his touchdown, four of Bruns's five punts in the game gave ODU starting field possession inside of its own 20-yard line. One of those punts was a career-long 72-yarder that pinned the Panthers at their five-yard line.
UP NEXT: The NCAA Division II postseason selection show is Sunday at 6:00 p.m. on NCAA.com, during which the Eagles will find out whether or not they're one of seven Midwest Region teams to make it.