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The Student News Site of Ashland University

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Ashland University

The Collegian

AU football finishes 2023 season with bowl win against McKendree

The Eagles cap off the campaign with a nail-biting 23-20 win in the America’s Crossroads Bowl game
Mike Hopkins
Eagle quarterback Trevor Bycznski hands off the ball to running back Patrick Blubaugh.

The Ashland University football team took down the McKendree Bearcats, 23-20, in the America’s Crossroads Bowl game on Friday, Dec. 1, to secure the program’s first-ever bowl victory.

The contest, which was highlighted by stifling defense and consistent offense, saw the Eagles cap off the 2023 campaign on a high note and head into the offseason with a 9-3 overall record. Defensive end Michael Shimek led the Eagles to the victory on Friday, recording a program-high four sacks.

“I look at the bowl game as a reward for the resilience of this year’s team,” said Eagle Head Coach Doug Geiser. “After starting the season out with a 1-3 record, they could have very easily packed it up, but, credit to our seniors and our leaders, they stuck together, trusted the process, and bounced back to win 7 in a row to finish the regular season.”

To kick off the bowl game, the Eagles opened things up with a quick strike as they found the game’s initial score.

They would find the endzone off the right arm of quarterback Trevor Bycznski who found wideout Jent Joseph wide open down the sideline. Joseph would take off and find a 53-yard score to put the Eagles up 7-0.

The score would be his fourth and final of his junior-year season.

After the Eagles went up 7-0, the Bearcats would bounce back and find a touchdown of their own just four minutes later.

The possession would start after Bycznski would throw an interception to Bearcat safety Ethan Young. With the Bearcats receiving the ball at the 10-yard line, it would take the offense just three plays to find the endzone as running back Eddie Clark bulldozed his way in for six points.

The PAT would be good through the uprights, knotting the game back up at 7’s.

In the second quarter, the Eagles would be outscored 13-7 by the Bearcats as self-inflicted wounds continued to separate the two sides.

The bright spot in the quarter came as Bycznski found wideout Jamari Croom for an eight-yard touchdown to give the Eagles a 14-7 lead with just under six minutes left until halftime.

However, the Bearcats did not stutter with such little time on the clock.

They would march 60 yards down the field in eight plays before quarterback Caleb Fisher found his trusty target Bryla Apholone for the tying touchdown. With the game level, 14-14, and the clock dwindling down in the first half, it looked like the contest would be level heading into halftime.

Once again, the Bearcats had a different storyline in mind.

With the Eagles holding the ball with under a minute left in the opening stanza, Bycznski dropped back and threw a slant across the middle to wideout Tyler Davis. The ball went through Davis’ hands and into the outstretched arms of Young, who recorded an interception earlier in the game, and he took the ball 75 yards to the house.

His score would give the Bearcats a 20-14 lead heading into halftime after the missed PAT.

In the second half, the Eagles would bounce back, holding the Bearcats to zero points through the final two quarters of action.

Offensively, they were held in check in the third quarter, but in the fourth quarter they turned things around.

With under three minutes left in the game, Bycznski would find his third touchdown of the game as the connection with Davis finally was made from 39 yards out. His score and the PAT to follow would give the Eagles a 21-10 lead.

To finish the game, the Eagle defense would stand strong and force a safety on Fisher. The two points would give the Eagles a 23-20 scoreline to finish the game and take home the America’s Crossroads Bowl trophy.

The win would give the Eagles a 9-3 overall record and the program’s first bowl game victory.

Leading the charge for them was Bycznski’s 283 passing yards and three touchdowns, while Joseph finished the game with 142 yards and a score. In the running game, junior tailback Patrick Blubaugh took off for 108 yards on 20 attempts in his first career start.

Defensively, the Eagles were led by a standout performance from Shimek who recorded nine tackles, four sacks and one forced fumble. Freshman safety E.J. Teah recorded five tackles and one interception in his first start for the team.

The Eagles next look to the offseason in preparation for the spring season where the Eagles will look to address holes left by graduating seniors. Fortunately, it looks like the team won’t have to look very far.

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    Fred ViisciDec 6, 2023 at 4:04 pm

    Why didn’t the seniors play?