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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Ashland University

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Ashland University

The Collegian

Eagles prepare for first-ever bowl game against McKendree

AU Football looks to cap off the 2023 season on a high note
Mike Hopkins
The Ashland University football team walks onto the field ahead of the season finale against Kentucky Wesleyan.

While it may seem like the Eagles’ season was over a few weeks ago after the team took down Kentucky Wesleyan, they aren’t done just yet.

The Ashland University football team has accepted an invite to participate in the America’s Crossroads Bowl on Friday, Dec. 1, in Hammond, Ind. where they will take on the McKendree Bearcats. The two sides will go toe-to-toe for the first time in both schools’ history.

“I look at the bowl game as a reward for the resilience of this year’s team. After starting out 1 – 3, they could have very easily packed it up,” said Eagle Head Coach Doug Geiser. “Credit to our seniors and our leaders, they stuck together, trusted the process, and bounced back to win seven in a row to finish the regular season. Now, they get a chance to add to their legacy and win 9 games in a season for only the 13th time in the school’s 103 years of football.”

The Eagles will represent the Great Midwest Athletic Conference (GMAC) as they take on the Bearcats who are representing the Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC).

The two conferences have played one another in the America’s Crossroads Bowl three times since the 2019 season.

In all three meetings, the GLVC’s Truman State has won each. The 2019 outing saw them take down Ohio Dominican, 21-7, and in the 2021 game they defeated Hillsdale College, 34-17. The most recent game, played in 2022, they took down Tiffin University, 28-27.

For the GMAC, they are still searching for the conference’s first win in the bowl game.

“As with every game, the expectation is to win. That’s why we play this wonderful game,” said Geiser. “We’re also honored to represent the G.M.A.C. in the American Crossroads Bowl. No GMAC team has ever won this bowl game. Hopefully, we can be the first.”

Fortunately for the Eagles, Truman State opted to not attend the bowl game this season after finishing the campaign with a 9-2 overall record. With the third placed Bearcats were then thrusted into the spot to participate in the bowl game and instantly jumped onto it.

They finished the 2023 season with a 5-5 overall record while going 5-2 in conference play, posting three losses in non-conference play. While finishing in third, the Bearcats showed that the team can compete at a high level. They finished the campaign averaging 24 points-per-game (PPG) to go alongside an average of 267 yards of offense per outing.

On the Eagles side of things, the team thrived as the season hit its middle point. After suffering two losses in non-conference play and a brutal blowout on the road against the Tiffin Dragons, they rebounded and turned the season around.

They were able to finish the regular season with an 8-3 record while averaging an impressive 31 PPG offensively and just 22 PPG allowed defensively. The team also ended the year averaging over 350 yards of offense a game.

I’m looking for all three phases: offense, defense, and special teams, to build upon the standard of excellence they set this fall. For the offense, I’m looking for them to continue to play turnover-free, to limit TFL’s, and to increase their explosive plays,” said Geiser. “For the defense, I’m looking for them to continue to be stingy vs. the run game, and to improve their play vs. ‘ball in the air.’ In regard to the special teams, I want to see them continue to make plays that ‘change the game’.”

In preparation for a team they’ve never faced, the Eagles have focused heavily on practicing and honing in their skills.

We have broken these last three weeks up into phases. The first week was like a spring practice, conceptually. The objective was to work on individual skills, techniques, and fundamentals,” said Coach Geiser. “We didn’t do any banging, and we limited the practices to one hour. This allowed us to let guys heal up after a long, grueling season while still keeping them immersed in the game.”

Unlike other seasons, the Eagles have maintained a strong core of healthy players that have helped propel them to success. Throughout practice, Geiser wanted to make sure that the team’s overall health stayed intact and limited physicality in preparation for the bowl game.

“The objective of the second week was to build on the fundamentals that we re-taught in week one, but to incorporate more group work as well. We also introduced McKendree’s basic concepts,” he said. “We re-introduced some physicality into the practice in week two, but the primary focus was still on teaching.”

With a three week break to prepare for the Bearcats, Geiser has made sure to space out the team’s practicing schedule to be much more kind to the players.

“In this third week, we’re treating it like a normal, in-season game week,” he said. “We’ve had three, 90-minute practices in our preparation to the bowl game on Friday night.”

The fluid schedule in preparation for the bowl game has allowed for the chemistry inside the locker room to flourish. For some, mainly seniors, this would be their last chance to compete at the collegiate level.

“I believe the feel of the locker room is excitement that we get a chance to compete one more time in the fall of 2023,” said Geiser.

Outside of the veterans, starters and seniors, others such as the underclassmen will be given an opportunity to make a name for themselves. This would give them in-game experience to learn and grow ahead of the offseason.

“Some of the young guys will get the unique opportunity to actually “audition” in a game for an increased role next fall. I’m excited to see who steps up to ‘state their case’,” said Geiser. 

 The Eagles will have the team’s final chance to shine in the 2023 campaign this coming Friday with kickoff set for 7:00 P.M. local time. They enter the contest on a seven-game win streak with a 8-3 overall record.

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