THE TURNING POINT: Senior whip Toney Peters knocked down a third-down pass on Davenport's first drive of the game, setting up Ashland in good field position for its first touchdown.
STAT OF THE GAME: The Eagle defense pitched a shutout on the road for the first time Nov. 12, 1994 (43-0 at St. Francis).
CALEDONIA, Mich. – The story of the 2017 Ashland University football team through five games has been written by a deep and determined defense.
On Saturday (Sept. 30) afternoon at the Farmers Insurance Athletic Complex on the campus of Davenport University, the No. 20-ranked Eagles defeated the Panthers, 38-0, for Ashland's first shutout away from home in 23 years.
AU is 4-1 overall and 3-0 in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, while DU is 0-5, 0-4.
"We did congratulate our defense," said Ashland head coach Lee Owens. "It's a big deal in college football today, I don't care who you play against, to hold a team for 60 minutes without scoring. And we played everybody we brought on the trip.
"Great depth, great game plan and the guys really played hard."
A top-20 defense in NCAA Division II in terms of points allowed per game coming into Saturday, Ashland allowed no points and just 227 yards of offense against Davenport. The Eagles now are yielding just 12.8 points and 319.4 yards per game in 2017.
A defense which recorded eight tackles for loss and one turnover was led by reigning GLIAC Defensive Player of the Week, junior defensive end James Prater Jr. (five total tackles, three for loss), and senior whip Toney Peters (four total stops, a half-tackle for loss, one pass breakup, one interception).
Ashland got Davenport off the field on the first drive of the game following a pass breakup from Peters, and the Eagle offense started on the Panthers' 49 following a 28-yard punt return by senior cornerback Dale Irby. Senior quarterback Travis Tarnowski dumped a pass off to junior tailback Andrew Vaughn, who turned it into a 15-yard touchdown catch and a 7-0 AU lead.
A short Panther punt again gave the Eagles the short field on their second possession. Starting at the Davenport 35, Ashland upped its first-quarter lead to 14-0 when Tarnowski found junior wide receiver Kamaron Green for a 10-yard score.
Vaughn scored his second touchdown of the game, and first rushing, with 10:20 to go until halftime on a one-yard toss play to give the Eagles a 21-0 advantage. Ashland made it four touchdowns on four drives when sophomore tailback Keishaun Sims ran in from 17 yards out.
Peters then got into the act when he intercepted a wide receiver screen pass on the run and raced 45 yards to make it a 35-0 game with 11:25 to go in the third quarter.
"We played pretty well on the defensive end," Peters said. "We performed out on the field. All 22 guys, first and second string, we all have confidence in each other."
The special teams then contributed in preserving the shutout when senior stud Austin Utter blocked a 37-yard Davenport field goal midway through the third. Senior kicker Aidan Simenc provided the final margin of victory with a 33-yard field goal of his own at the 4:43 mark of the third.
Vaughn ran for 103 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, and caught two passes for 35 yards and a score, while Tarnowski was 10-for-17 for 109 yards and two TDs.
"It was a real great win," Vaughn said. "We came out fired up, came out strong in the first quarter. All things were clicking from there."
UP NEXT: Ashland's stretch of four road games in five weeks continues on Oct. 7 at 1 p.m. at Northern Michigan.