Ashland University's football team evened its 2018 record to 3-3 – eventually.
Thanks to a defense which forced two second-half turnovers, and a 10-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter – and despite a lengthy late-game lightning delay – the Eagles improved to 3-3 overall and 3-1 in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference following a 21-17 win over Saginaw Valley State on Saturday (Oct. 6) night at Jack Miller Stadium/Martinelli Field.
"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," said Ashland head coach Lee Owens. "We found a way to finish. The defense played well."
The Cardinals take their first loss of 2018, and are 5-1, 2-1.
Ashland is one full game behind first-place Ferris State in the GLIAC standings, and a half-game behind second-place Davenport and Grand Valley State.
FIRST AND TEN
1. Ashland's defense tightened up in the second half, allowing for the comeback after yielding just seven points and 94 yards to the Cardinals in the third and fourth quarters.
2. Leading the defensive charge was senior defensive end James Prater Jr., who became the program's all-time leader in tackles for loss following a game in which he collected two sacks, two TFLs, six total tackles and two pass breakups. Prater Jr. now has 40 career tackles for loss as an Eagle.
3. Ashland was plus-1 in the turnover battle on Saturday night, giving AU a plus-5 ratio in three wins.
4. The Cardinals took the opening drive of the game and went 68 yards in 15 plays and 7:49, scoring on a two-yard touchdown fade pass from quarterback Ryan Conklin to wide receiver Chad Gailliard. The Eagles countered with the tying touchdown on the final play of the first quarter when redshirt freshman quarterback Austin Brenner found sophomore wide receiver Logan Bolin for a 57-yard strike – Ashland's longest play of the season.
5. Taking advantage of a short field early in the second quarter, the Eagles marched 42 yards to take a 14-7 lead on senior tailback Andrew Vaughn's one-yard touchdown run. Saginaw Valley State countered to end the first half, however, with another long drive, this one of 18 plays, 75 yards and 8:28 – culminating in a 25-yard field goal by Connor Luksic to make it a 14-10 game at the half.
6. In the third quarter, it was the Cardinals taking advantage of a short field following an Eagle muffed punt at the AU 5. Four plays later, Conklin found wideout Dominick Fiscelli for a seven-yard touchdown and a 17-14 SVSU advantage.
7. Getting the ball back following a Cardinal punt with 10:48 left in the game, Ashland began to drive for the eventual game-winning points. An 11-play, 51-yard drive was finished off by the 10-yard scoring pass from Brenner to Vaughn with 5:28 to go.
8. As the rain started and got heavier, each team traded punts. Saginaw Valley State got the ball back with 2:04 to play on its own 32-yard line, but the second play of the possession was an intercepted pass by senior cornerback Isiah Roberts, his first at Ashland. Right after, the game was suspended for 45 minutes due to lightning before the Eagles could come back to kneel on the ball to finish off the victory.
9. Brenner was 14-for-25 for 180 yards and two touchdowns, while Vaughn had 94 yards and two TDs on scrimmage.
10. Ashland's defense allowed just 89 rushing yards to SVSU, putting the rush "D" at a season average of just 101.8 ground yards allowed for 2018.
A bye week, followed by a home game on Oct. 20 at 1 p.m. vs. Michigan Tech (2-4, 0-4).