THE TURNING POINT: Trailing 13-3 early in the second quarter, Ashland finished the game outscoring Saginaw Valley State 28-6.
STAT OF THE GAME: The Eagles won their first outright Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship in five years, and their third GLIAC title overall in the last six seasons.
With an outright Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship on the line, and trailing 13-3 early in the second quarter, Ashland University's football team wasn't about to let its opportunity slip away.
The No. 10-ranked Eagles scored four unanswered touchdowns, and finished the regular season with a 10-game winning streak following a 31-19 victory over Saginaw Valley State on Senior Day on Saturday (Nov. 11) afternoon at Jack Miller Stadium/Martinelli Field.
"We've got some warriors in our senior class," said Ashland head coach Lee Owens. "It was fun. To go 9-0 in this conference, it's such a tribute to that group of players. It's a big-time accomplishment."
Ashland is 10-1 overall and 9-0 in the GLIAC and has won its third GLIAC crown in six seasons, and its 16th conference title overall. The Eagles will await their NCAA Division II postseason fate, with a seventh playoff appearance basically assured.
The Cardinals' season ends at 5-6, 3-6.
"That's a good football team," Owens said. "They're physical, they're well-coached, they have skill."
Down 13-3, Ashland cut its deficit to three points right before halftime when junior fullback Mack Mikulski went in for a one-yard touchdown run. Still, the Eagles trailed at the half for the first time in 2017.
Tarnowski added two more scoring strikes, both in the fourth quarter – a 15-yarder to sophomore wide receiver Stanley Jackson Jr. and a four-yarder to Mikulski. He finished 19-for-37 for 256 yards and three scores.
"We dug ourselves a little bit of a hole early," said Tarnowski, "but I don't think we ever lost faith in each other, or had any sense of panic or anything like that. We didn't change much at halftime, just needed to execute better."
Tarnowski has thrown 92 touchdown passes in GLIAC games, setting a new conference record and passing former Grand Valley State QB Curt Anes.
Bolin set career highs with nine catches and 94 receiving yards, and has caught a touchdown pass in three of the last four games.
The Eagle defense finished the contest with seven sacks (tops in 2017), 10 tackles for loss and seven pass breakups. Junior defensive end James Prater Jr. tied the program single-game record, set by College Football Hall of Famer Bill Royce, of 3½ sacks, while setting the new team single-season standard for tackles for loss at 19½.
"When one side of the ball is not clicking, the other side of the ball comes up and makes plays," Prater Jr. said. "It's pretty exciting. It's pressure by other guys making him step up and allowing me to make plays. It was great all-around defense today."
Senior safety Kevin Bourne finished with 11 total tackles and two pass breakups, while senior stud Austin Utter had four tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack and senior cornerback Dale Irby collected five tackles, an interception, two pass breakups, 44 yards on two kickoff returns and a 16-yard punt return.
Ashland's senior class finished its career having never lost a home regular-season game.
UP NEXT: The NCAA Division II football postseason selection show on Sunday (Nov. 12) at 5 p.m. on NCAA.com, then a first-round D-II playoff game on Saturday (Nov. 18).