THE TURNING POINT: After going up 14-7 late in the first quarter, Harding recovered its onside kick, and went 44 yards in eight plays to go up 17-7 early in the second.
STAT OF THE GAME: The Eagles played in their second Super Region semifinal all-time, and tied the program record for single-season wins with 11.
Ashland University's football team came within 10 points of a couple program firsts, but, ultimately, lost to Harding on Saturday (Nov. 25) afternoon, 34-24, in an NCAA Division II Super Region Three semifinal at Jack Miller Stadium/Martinelli Field.
The Eagles, ranked No. 9 in the country, finish the 2017 season at 11-2, tied for the program record for wins in a campaign and most consecutive victories in one season, and played in their second super regional semifinal all-time.
"They had a great day. Deserved to win the football game," said Ashland head coach Lee Owens of Harding. "We wish them the best as they move forward in the tournament.
"It's hard for our guys to put this whole thing into perspective, but they've been here four years, and there's only twice they've walked off this field not being able to ring the victory bell. Today wasn't our day."
The Bisons move on to the super region championship game at 10-3 and with 10 consecutive victories.
"I've coached for 25 years now, and I've never been more proud than I am today," said Harding head coach Paul Simmons. "Just the way our guys dealt with adversity today and adversity all season, it was just a special, special effort.
"Obviously, we played a great football team, a great program, and they were a class act today."
Late in the first quarter, Harding took a 14-7 lead on freshman fullback Cole Chancey's second rushing touchdown, a 33-yarder. The Bisons then recovered their own onside kick, and eight plays later, senior kicker Tristan Parsley's 22-yard field goal extended the lead to 17-7 – where the game stood at halftime.
Chancey's third rushing score, from one yard out, put Harding ahead 24-7 with 8:01 to play in the third quarter, then the two teams traded rushing touchdowns to make it a 31-14 contest early in the fourth.
That's when Ashland started its comeback. Senior quarterback Travis Tarnowski threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to redshirt freshman tight end Michael Schweitzer to cut the deficit to 31-21 at the 9:24 mark of the fourth, then four minutes later, senior kicker Aidan Simenc launched a career-long 48-yard field goal to make it a touchdown game.
Harding, however, took the ensuing drive and marched 71 yards in nine plays over 3:57 to tack on a Parsley 21-yard field goal to cap the scoring.
Tarnowski was 26-for-47 for 288 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Redshirt freshman wide receiver Logan Bolin caught eight passes for 110 yards and a score, while Schweitzer added seven grabs for 86 yards and a TD.
Defensively, sophomore inside linebacker Clay Shreve had a team-high 12 total tackles, while senior defensive tackle Harrison Hoppel collected eight total stops, 2½ for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
For the Bisons, Chancey ran 29 times for 165 yards and four touchdowns, while junior linebacker Sam Blankenship had 13 total tackles.
Ashland's senior class finishes its career with a school-record 38 wins over a four-year period.
"They've inspired me," Owens said. "They're champions, literally. The team wasn't ready to stop playing. It's what makes it so tough. This group ranks up there, as good as any group as I've ever coached, for many reasons. They're going to continue to win in life."