Eagles win behind defense and two freshmen

By Brent Pozza

The Eagles showed up to Jack Miller Stadium on Saturday in desperate need of a win over the unbeaten and No. 24-ranked Northern Michigan Wildcats. After a four-overtime win at home two weeks ago against Indianapolis and a three-overtime loss the week prior at Hillsdale, fatigue was a huge concern for the 1-2 Eagles.

“It’s exhausting,” said Ashland head coach Lee Owens when asked if he was worried about his team getting worn down. “Someone said we have an extra game under our belts.”

It was the Eagles’ worst nightmare. They fumbled the opening kickoff and gave up a touchdown in the first three minutes. Then, things got worse. Northern Michigan scored another quick touchdown and took the lead 13-0 after a missed extra point.

This is the type of situation that can make or break a team’s season. Are you going to let the fatigue of seven overtimes in the past two weeks get the best of you and give up, or are you going to fight? The Eagles chose to fight.

Ashland runs a spread offense and is known to play more of a finesse offense. This strategy was not working, and Owens decided to ride his offense behind freshman tailback Jordan McCune.

McCune had 21 carries for 143 yards and two touchdowns.

“I’d like to give all my credit to my line and my fullback because without them, I couldn’t do what I do out there,” McCune said.

Senior captain running back D.J. McCoy almost played a non-factor on Saturday. He only had six carries for 12 yards, but he contributed two touchdowns. This was McCoy’s first game back from injury after missing the previous two games. The injury might have played a small factor in Owens’ decision to go to McCune, but the main factor was his running style.

Northern Michigan’s defense was weak up the middle and Ashland decided to go to the I-formation. McCune is a big, bruising running back that can break tackles and make defenders pay. McCoy is a prototypical running back that is quick, and can make defenders miss and can break tackles from time to time.

The Eagles decided to play power football and gave the football to McCune up the middle over and over again. McCune’s performance was very reminiscent of Peyton Hillis’ performance one year ago for the Cleveland Browns against the New England Patriots.

A strong running game opens up the passing game. Junior quarterback Taylor Housewright only had 97 yards passing, but it was an efficient 97 yards. Housewright went 7-11 and had one touchdown along with zero interceptions.

Housewright’s main target was freshman Eric Thompkins. Thompkins is a 6-foot-3-inch wide receiver from Canton, Ohio. He had four catches for 78 yards to go along with one touchdown.

The cornerbacks on Northern Michigan were no match for Thompkins’s size and speed. The Eagles began to pass out of the I-formation and ran a lot of play-action where Housewright’s first read was Thompkins.

As the offense began to click after the first quarter, so did the defense.

The Eagles’ defense shut down Northern Michigan’s dual threat quarterback Carter Kopach. Kopach is known for his ability to create plays with his feet, but the Eagles were able to contain him.

Ashland only had three sacks in three games coming into Saturday night’s affair, and they need to put pressure on the quarterback, preached Owens.

“We have to get more pressure on the quarterback,” he said “We have to be a more aggressive defensive team. We can’t lose our aggressiveness.”

The Eagles had a total of three sacks and 10 tackles for loss. Seniors Matt Stoinoff, Jeris Pendleton, and Julian Goodwine each had a sack and made it very uncomfortable for Kopach to pass from the pocket.

“We did scramble drills all week,” said Stoinoff. “When you build an offense around one guy and you stop him, you stop the offense.”

Junior defensive back Tyler McFarlin lead the team in tackles with 11.

The defense was also able to force three turnovers with two interceptions and one fumble recovery. Junior Mike McMillan and senior Tyler Krummel each had an interception.

Ashland was able to up their record to 2-2 with a final score of 45-16. Ashland is now 2-2 and is right in the thick of things in the GLIAC. The Eagles just have to keep chopping that wood and take one game at a time.