Ashland University's football team's 2015 season came to an end on Saturday (Nov. 21) afternoon following a 45-28 loss to Grand Valley State in an NCAA Division II Super Region 4 quarterfinal at Jack Miller Stadium/Martinelli Field.
The Eagles, ranked No. 3 in the country, finish at 10-1, while the Lakers, ranked No. 12, move on at 10-2.
The loss snaps AU's school-record 12-game home winning streak.
"Difference in the game, they ran the ball and we couldn't," said Ashland head coach Lee Owens, whose team ran for 81 yards and allowed the Lakers to rush for 230. "We're proud of what they accomplished. We've got a great bunch. We have a good bunch of guys back. There's some things that sometimes you just can't control.
"For 10 weeks, we found a way to win. In the postseason, you have to find a way to win. That's what great teams do. We don't have that kind of tradition (yet). It's obviously the next step our program has to take."
Five interceptions (two thrown by the Lakers and three suffered by the Eagles) dominated a helter-skelter first quarter, one which ended with the game tied at 7. Ashland broke the scoreless tie with a 13-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Travis Tarnowski to junior tailback Vance Settlemire at the 9:05 mark, then Grand Valley State retied the game on a four-yard touchdown run by Kirk Spencer with 2:56 left in the opening period.
The Lakers scored back-to-back touchdowns in the second quarter to take a 21-7 lead. Marty Carter scored on a 17-yard run with 11:41 left until halftime, then quarterback Bart Williams found wide receiver Nick Dodson for a two-yard scoring strike less than four minutes later.
Tarnowski and Settlemire teamed up for a second scoring toss of the game, this one a shuffle pass of four yards with 2:47 to go until the break for a 21-14 Eagle deficit. But GVSU got its two-touchdown advantage back in final minute of the first half when Williams and Spencer hooked up for a three-yard touchdown pass.
Laker kicker Joel Schipper hit a 23-yard field goal to increase the lead their lead to 31-14, then Settlemire scored his third touchdown of the game on a seven-yard run with 49 seconds left in the third quarter to cut the AU deficit to 31-21.
Grand Valley State capped the win with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns before Tarnowski found sophomore wide receiver Maxwell Shawver for a four-yard touchdown pass with 28 seconds left.
Tarnowski was 27-for-49 for 276 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions, and sophomore tight end Adam Shaheen caught eight passes for 94 yards.
"This team's only been in the playoffs once," Tarnowski said. "We'll take this learning experience…break down the film and try to get better from here. It's bittersweet, really. We knew what we were capable of doing. A lot of that was me. I have two more years. We'll be back."
Settlemire had 80 yards and three touchdowns from scrimmage.
"There's a lot of guys in that locker room – we have 15 all-conference players, and 12 come back," Owens said. "We have to do all the things in the offseason to get into that position. A lot of guys in the locker room know what it took to get there, and have a better idea of what it takes to win there."