Strong second half carries Eagles to victory

By Chris Bils

Down 21-13 to Ohio Dominican with 1:58 to go in the second quarter Saturday, it looked like Ashland’s perfect season might be in danger. Later that night, another Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference team, Grand Valley State, would have its perfect season ruined in a 40-24 loss to Ferris State.

But Grand Valley State doesn’t have Taylor Housewright.

The senior quarterback led the Eagles (6-0, 5-0 GLIAC) 78 yards in 67 seconds to cut the Panthers’ (3-3, 2-3) lead to one right before halftime, a drive that took nine plays and ended with junior Brian Gamble catching a 19-yard touchdown pass.

The drive deflated the Panthers.

“It just didn’t seem like the same game after that,” Ashland head coach Lee Owens said.

After the break, sophomore running back Anthony Taylor raced 45 yards to give Ashland its first lead.

Freshman Cameron Casey added the extra point to make it 27-21, and the Eagles never looked back in a 44-21 win.

The game got off to a slow start, with the Panthers missing a field goal attempt and the Eagles turning the ball over on downs on their first drive.

ODU broke the deadlock on its second drive, when freshman quarterback Tajuan Green checked into the game as a wide receiver and received a pitch. He hurled a 65-yard touchdown pass to Ronald McCloud to give the Panthers a 7-0 lead.

Ashland answered with a nine play, 80-yard drive that ended with a three-yard touchdown run by Taylor, but Casey missed the extra-point attempt.

The teams went back-and-forth until Gamble’s score before halftime, including a one-yard score by sophomore running back Jordan McCune in the second quarter.

In the second half, Ashland’s offense opened up. Housewright finished 28 of 43 passing for 285 yards passing, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Housewright has yet to throw an interception through the first six games.

Eight Ashland receivers caught passes, including senior Anthony Capasso (eight catches, 99 yards), sophomore Eric Thompkins (8-78), sophomore Dan Piko (3-53) and Gamble (3-34), who caught all three of his passes on the drive before halftime, including the touchdown.

“I don’t know who you take away from us,” Owens said.

Gamble, a defensive back, is a special athlete who only comes in on offense when the Eagles are short on time.

On the ground, Taylor (17 carries, 128 yards, two touchdowns) and McCune (18-115-2) combined for 243 yards and four touchdowns.

Owens gave freshman fullback Steve Nagy the game ball.

“It’s the only game he doesn’t score and we named him player of the week,” Owens said. “It kind of tells you something about his blocking this week and how important it was.”

Nagy, who has scored seven total touchdowns in this season, caught just one pass for three yards Saturday.

Sophomore defensive back Chris Harvey, who caused a fumble and had an interception, was named player of the week for the defense.

The Eagles shut out the Panthers in the second half and gave up 278 yards of total offense compared to the 556 that they gained. Mark Miller, ODU’s starting quarterback, was seven of 18 for 83 yards, one touchdown and an interception.

For Ashland, the focus now shifts to Walsh, who comes in with a record of 2-4 (1-4 GLIAC) in its first year in the conference. The Eagles are not taking the Cavaliers lightly, however.

“This isn’t like some start-up program that’s not done well,” Owens said.

Walsh has a strong football tradition from its days in the NAIA, and has a lot of recruits from Stark County, which according to Owens is the most football-crazy region in America.

The Cavaliers will march into Jack Miller Stadium at 1 p.m. Saturday afternoon for an Ashland homecoming matchup.