There is a first time for everything, and Ashland University's football team had many notable firsts on Halloween Night.
The No. 5-ranked Eagles improved to 9-0 overall and in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference thanks to a 45-31 win over No. 9-ranked Grand Valley State (7-2, 6-2) on Saturday (Oct. 31) night at Jack Miller Stadium/Martinelli Field. It was the first time AU has beaten the Lakers when both teams were nationally-ranked this century.
"I'm so proud of our guys. That's a really good football team," said Ashland head coach Lee Owens. "That's a really good football team, playing as well as anybody in the country. And for us to be able to play like we did…our guys just found ways to get it done.
"We started the season saying that's how you define greatness. You find a way to overcome whatever you have to overcome every week. We've been great for nine weeks in a row."
Ashland's victory was paced by players who have been in starring roles all season, and those who were thrust into the spotlight for the first time against GVSU.
Sophomore quarterback Travis Tarnowski was 30-for-44 for 333 yards and four touchdowns, and completed passes to 10 different receivers. In the last three games, Tarnowski, who is 17-2 as AU's starting quarterback and 9-0 at home, is 76-for-114 (66.7 percent) for 1,020 yards, 10 touchdowns and just three interceptions and three sacks.
"We were clicking on a lot of different things. We had a lot of guys stepping up," Tarnowski said. "Every week, it's going to be a different guy. To say that we're clicking and that we're playing our best, I would hope so, and I hope we keep going forward and keep trying to get better."
Junior tailback Vance Settlemire ran 22 times for 147 yards and two touchdowns, and caught six passes for 53 yards and two more scores. It was his fifth 100-yard rushing game of the season, and his 29 career touchdowns leaves him tied with current AU receivers coach Joe Horn for ninth in program history.
"We knew coming in they had a really good defense," Settlemire said. "We just went out there and played our game. The offensive line played outstanding, our receivers were catching the ball, Trav had a great game. We just had an all-around good game on offense and defense."
Sophomore tight end Adam Shaheen caught seven passes for 52 yards and two touchdowns, and has racked up 57 catches for 643 yards and nine touchdowns in nine games this season.
Defensively, junior inside linebacker Zach Olszewski (11 total tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss and a pass breakup) and senior rover Donzale Ashley (10 total tackles and an interception) led the charge.
The new hands were players like freshman fullback Cameron Barker, who caught two passes for 24 yards and ran once for three yards; junior backup quarterback-punter Austin Bruns, who saw significant time at tight end; junior defensive end Zach Leftenant, who made his first collegiate start and sophomore linebacker Austin Utter, who rotated with Leftenant and usual starter at "stud," junior Adam Wallace, who was not at 100 percent.
Ashland's offense racked up 534 yards and was 11-of-16 on third-down, but the Eagle defense came up with three key stops against the Lakers – a pair of fourth-down holds on goal-line stands, and Ashley's interception with 4:00 left in the game.
The Eagles will close out the regular season on Saturday, Nov. 7 at 1 p.m. against No. 22-ranked Michigan Tech (6-2, 6-2) at home. It will be Senior Day and Fan Appreciation Day.
EAGLE NUGGETS: Ashland is 26-13 as a nationally-ranked team since the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Top 25 poll was instituted in 2000…The Eagles have beaten the Lakers two years in a row, marking the second time that has happened (1992-93)…The 2015 season is the 10th time Ashland has won at least nine games in a campaign…With six scoring drives of 60 or more yards against the Lakers, the Eagles have 38 such drives in nine games in 2015.