THE TURNING POINT: Once the weather cleared to start the third quarter, Ashland went on a six-play, 94-yard drive and scored on a 29-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Travis Tarnowski to junior wide receiver Kamaron Green to make it a 21-10 Eagle advantage – after nearly losing the ball on a punt return prior to the start of the drive.
STAT OF THE GAME: The Eagles scored 21 points, rushed for 114 yards and had 270 total yards against the top-ranked defense in NCAA Division II.
There was little that was "normal" about Saturday (Nov. 18) afternoon's Super Region Three quarterfinal at Jack Miller Stadium/Martinelli Field.
Except for the final result.
After a 15-minute lightning delay to the opening kickoff, a rain-drenched first half, seven turnovers, two blocked punts and a total of 423 offensive yards on 36 drives, the No. 9-ranked Ashland University football team won its second NCAA Division II playoff game, and first at "The Jack," 21-18, over No. 13-ranked Northwest Missouri State, the two-time defending D-II national champs.
"Thank goodness we played great defense today," said Ashland head coach Lee Owens. "Our guys kept fighting, and came out and found some way to come out with a victory."
The Eagles (11-1) will face Harding (9-3) at home in a Super Region Three semifinal on Nov. 25 at a time to be determined. Harding won on Saturday at Indianapolis, 27-24, meaning the game will feature Ashland on an 11-game winning streak and Harding on a nine-game winning streak.
Ashland has won 11 straight home games overall, and is 21-1 at home since the start of the 2014 season.
The Bearcats (9-3) came into Saturday's game with the top-ranked defense in the country, but it was Ashland's "D" which rose to the occasion, allowing 18 points and 2.2 yards per play in the victory.
Once the game kicked off, Ashland scored first on a 13-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Travis Tarnowski to redshirt freshman tight end Michael Schweitzer. Northwest Missouri State, however, took short fields following an interception and a fumble to take a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter.
The Eagles regained the lead at 14-10 when Tarnowski found senior wide receiver Jamie Hence in the end zone for a 21-yard score at the 4:25 mark of the second. At halftime, both teams had combined for just 198 yards in less-than-stellar playing conditions.
To start the third quarter, the rain had subsided, and the Eagles, after nearly losing the ball on a punt return, went 94 yards on six plays for what would be the game's deciding points. Tarnowski threw his third scoring strike of the game, a 29-yarder to junior wide receiver Kamaron Green.
Northwest Missouri State posted the game's final points on a touchdown pass and a two-point conversion with 7:42 to play, but Ashland's defense sealed the deal when junior safety Isaiah Stiverson broke up a fourth-down pass with the Bearcats at the AU 38-yard line.
"How I thought it was going to play out is how it played out, at least with the weather conditions early," said Northwest Missouri State head coach Rich Wright. "It was sloppy. I thought both defenses played pretty well. At the end, I thought we had gotten the momentum turned, and we had a couple opportunities, but unfortunately, we fell a little bit short."
Senior stud Austin Utter collected five total tackles, two for loss, 1½ sacks and four quarterback hurries.
"We saw the game film. They were a great team. We knew what we were getting ourselves into," Utter said. "We have a lot of faith in each other. We just went into it to play to the best of our abilities. We treat every game like our last."
Sophomore inside linebacker Clay Shreve had nine total tackles, 2½ for loss and two pressures, while senior safety Kevin Bourne added eight total tackles, a forced fumble, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup.
In all, Ashland's defense had three sacks and 11 tackles for loss, and kept the Bearcats to 3-of-18 on third-down conversions.
Tarnowski was 10-for-21 for 156 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions, and sophomore tailback Luke Ogi ran 26 times for 82 yards.