ASHLAND, Ohio – In front of a large and boisterous crowd at Ferguson Field, it looked for a long time as if the Eagles would open the 2011 campaign with a scoreless draw against visiting Slippery Rock on Thursday (Sept. 1) night.
But in the 76th minute, Ashland junior sweeper Jamie Dollar (Perrysburg, Ohio) drove a perfectly-placed shot into the lower, right side of goal to hand AU a season-opening 1-0 win.
The score came on the heels of a foul by Slippery Rock (0-1) three yards behind penalty area. On the free kick junior Mitch Deyhle (Cincinnati, Ohio/La Salle) laid soft roller in front of Dollar, who whipped his shot just past The Rock's wall and tucked it into the net from 20 yards out.
"The whole middle was open and they didn't see me up top so I just smashed into the right corner," said Dollar, who celebrated his tally with a back flip.
This is the fourth straight season the Eagles (1-0) have opened with a win.
"At the last practice before the game I told them to have creativity and that if they see a weakness, they should exploit it," said AU head coach Jon Freeman. "They did exactly that."
The game was tight throughout with neither team coming away with many serious scoring chances. Though the Eagles controlled much of the first half, the play was choppy as both sides struggled to put multiple passes together.
In the second half, the game opened up. Slippery Rock was getting chances off long balls over the top, but either Dollar would clear them or goalkeeper Justin Nolan (Medina, Ohio/Highland) would scoop them to end the threat.
"Coach told us they were a very direct team," said Dollar. "They were knocking balls long and I feel like our defensive line knocked it out tonight."
The only really good opportunity for Slippery Rock came in the first half, when Nolan snagged a ball near the edge of the penalty area and had the ball dislodged by SRU's Kenneth Fultz. With an empty net, Fultz missed a rushed shot to the left of the near post.
Ashland had a couple breakaways led by senior captain Kenny Hewitt (London, England/Longhill), but they fell apart before any real threats came of them.
The Eagles threatened off a corner kick just seconds before their only goal as defender Danny Lusheck (Cincinnati, Ohio/St. Xavier) had a pair of shots ricocheted by the Slippery Rock defense.
"The first half I thought we had control of the game, but we were not good in the final third when it came to connecting passes to get a shot off," said Freeman. "That's where you have to be clinical and if you're not, you won't score goals."
The Rock had opportunities in the final minutes, but could not find the back of the net against Nolan. SRU's best chance came in the 90th minute on a corner kick when goalkeeper Clayton Master – playing high in desperation for a goal – got his head on the cross, but Nolan curled it in his arms. It was the only shot on goal for The Rock in the game.
Both teams were both undone by large amount of fouls – 39 in total – and seven yellow cards, including four to Ashland players.
The Eagles held a 13-6 edge in shots and a 7-6 advantage in corner kicks.
In its next game, Ashland will face No. 1 Northern Kentucky on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Ferguson Field. The teams have played a contentious series in the last several seasons, with the Eagles going 0-2-2 in the last three seasons against the Norse.
"NKU is a fantastic side," Freeman said. "You've got to relish those opportunities to play the No. 1 team in the country. You don't get to do that very often. It's a time for this team to show its quality."
If Thursday was an indication, the Eagles should be up to the challenge.