Great football teams aren't always great.
They are great when they have to be.
It remains to be seen if Ashland University's football team, ranked No. 8 in Division II, is a great team, but when a play was needed at the end of Saturday's (Oct. 24) game at Northern Michigan, the Eagles got one.
Sophomore quarterback Travis Tarnowski found sophomore tight end Adam Shaheen for a 10-yard touchdown pass with seven seconds left in regulation to give Ashland a 41-40 road victory against the Wildcats. AU is 8-0 overall and in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, and has won the 2015 GLIAC South Division title.
Northern Michigan drops to 4-4, 3-4.
Ashland overcame 26 answered Wildcat points and three second-half turnovers (two interceptions and a turnover on downs) to remain undefeated with two regular-season home games to play in 2015.
Tarnowski was 25-for-41 for 327 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions, while Shaheen caught a career-high 11 passes for 125 yards and a score. Junior tailback Vance Settlemire ran 23 times for 162 yards and two scores.
Defensively, junior free safety Terrell Hudson recorded 13 total tackles (10 solo) and 2½ tackles for loss.
Ashland racked up 524 yards of offense, and was 10-of-15 on third downs.
After the Eagle defense forced a punt after a three-and-out on the first series of the game, the AU offense went to work. A seven-play, 67-yard drive was capped off by a 12-yard touchdown run by Settlemire for the game's first points.
Ashland's season-long penchant for long scoring drives continued after forcing another punt. Starting at their own 10-yard line, the Eagles went 90 yards in 11 plays, and increased their lead to 14-0 on another Settlemire touchdown run, this one from 13 yards out.
Early in the second quarter, AU marched a long distance for a third touchdown and a 21-0 advantage. A nine-play, 73-yard drive culminated in a one-yard touchdown by senior tailback Michael Taylor. The Wildcats got on the board shortly thereafter on a 35-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Shaye Brown to wide receiver Austin Young.
The back-and-forth continued on the Eagles' next series. After a 44-yard kickoff return by sophomore cornerback Dale Irby, AU moved the remaining 55 yards in just four plays and scored on a three-yard touchdown run by senior tailback Jordan McCune. Ashland led 28-7 with 7:44 to go until halftime.
Northern Michigan scored for a second consecutive drive on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Brown to wide receiver Keyondre Craig to make it a 28-14 game with 4:15 to go until the break. The Eagles put their lead back to three touchdowns just 16 seconds later when Tarnowski hit redshirt freshman wide receiver Matthew Wilcox for a 53-yard scoring strike.
The Wildcats had the last word in the first half, scoring on a Brown-to-fullback Edward Christian four-yard touchdown pass to make the AU halftime advantage 35-21.
The scoring slowed down for most of the third quarter, but the Wildcats cut their deficit to 11 thanks to a 32-yard Tyler Blackburn field goal with 2:53 left until the final stanza. Then, with five seconds left in the third, running back Terrance Dye scored on a five-yard run, and it was a 35-31 AU advantage going into the final quarter.
A 38-yard Blackburn field goal cut the Wildcat deficit to 35-34 with 8:24 to go in regulation. Then, with 3:39 left in the fourth, Northern Michigan running back Jake Mayon scored on a 16-yard run, and while the two-point conversion failed, the Eagles trailed for the first time, 40-35 - setting up the late-game heroics.
Ashland returns to Jack Miller Stadium/Martinelli Field for a key Week 9 game against Grand Valley State on Saturday, Oct. 31 at 7 p.m.