CANTON – Ashland University head football coach Lee Owens noted this week how much trouble his teams have had offensively at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
On Saturday (Sept. 12) against Walsh, that trouble continued – until it mattered in the fourth quarter and overtime.
In Ashland's first overtime game in almost four full years (Sept. 17, 2011 at Hillsdale), sophomore quarterback Travis Tarnowski found a wide-open senior defensive end Chase Hoobler for a 5-yard touchdown pass, and the Eagle defense held Walsh on four downs on its OT possession for a 31-24 victory.
"It just continues. I don't know what it is here," said Ashland head coach Lee Owens. "We make more penalties, more mental mistakes and more turnovers here than anywhere we play.
"Walsh played a really good game. We told our guys, we said we can't look by this team. It may take 60 minutes, it may take the last play to win, and that's exactly what happened."
The win was AU's first in overtime since a 39-36 four-overtime decision at home against Indianapolis on Sept. 10, 2011. Ashland, ranked No. 24 in Division II, is 2-0 overall and in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, while Walsh is 0-2, 0-2.
Both teams traded punts to begin the contest, but Walsh began to find its offensive footing on its second drive thanks to the running game. The Cavalier drive stalled at the Eagles' 23-yard line, however, and Walsh was held to a 40-yard field goal by senior kicker Michael Dudics for the game's first points with 5:56 left in the first quarter.
Tarnowski and the AU offense began to click midway through the second quarter, but then a long pass was intercepted by Walsh senior safety C.J. Chatman at the Cavalier 18, stopping another drive short of points. The Eagles forced a punt, but the result was a 76-yarder downed at the AU 1.
That special-teams play came back to bite the Eagles, as a strip sack of Tarnowski was recovered in the end zone by junior defensive end Alex Jones for a Walsh touchdown. The Cavaliers led 10-0 with 4:59 left until the break.
On the next possession, Ashland turned the tables, as junior backup quarterback/punter Austin Bruns' boot was downed at the Walsh 1. Three plays and two yards later, the Eagles forced another punt, and the offense set up shop at the Cavaliers' 43. AU cut its deficit to 10-7 with 1:08 left until the half when Tarnowski, hit and falling away, threw a 20-yard jump-ball touchdown pass to sophomore tight end Adam Shaheen.
Ashland caught the second half's first break when Walsh junior running back Aaron Male fumbled, and junior free safety Terrell Hudson recovered at midfield with 4:55 left in the third quarter. The resulting 35-yard field goal attempt by sophomore kicker Aidan Simenc was good, and game was tied at 10 with 2:50 to go in the third.
The Eagles' first offensive play of the fourth quarter was a 76-yard catch-and-run from Tarnowski to Shaheen down the left sideline. Two plays later, Tarnowski kept the ball on a read-option play and scored on a six-yard touchdown run to the left pylon, giving AU 17 unanswered points and a 17-10 lead.
Walsh took the ensuing drive, however, and went 68 yards in nine plays, tying the contest at 17 on a two-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Kalvin Gordon.
The see-saw affair turned Ashland's way once again, as the Eagles re-took the lead at 24-17 with 3:55 to go in regulation when senior fullback Aaron Weyer plunged in for a one-yard TD. That dive capped off a 12-play, 75-yard drive which took 6:13 off the clock.
Walsh kept coming, however, and drove the ball. On first-and-goal at the AU 2 with 49 seconds left in regulation, Hudson stopped Gordon for a one-yard gain to the AU 1. But on second-and-goal, Gordon reached over the goal line for the tying touchdown with 40 seconds to go in the fourth.
Tarnowski was 23-for-35 for 261 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, and Shaheen caught nine passes for 151 yards and a score. Junior inside linebacker Zach Olszewski led the defense with 12 total tackles and a tackle for loss.
Ashland will play its home opener on Saturday, Sept. 19 at 7 p.m. against Ohio Dominican (1-1, 1-1).