Eagles Start, Close Strong in Win at Nationally-Ranked Findlay

Eagles Start, Close Strong in Win at Nationally-Ranked Findlay
The Eagles debuted their new road uniforms Saturday afternoon at Findlay.

As it turned out, they needed several pairs of good boxing gloves, too.

Ashland University's football team ran out to a 17-0 lead, but Findlay kept rallying to get within one score on multiple occasions. The Eagles, however, kept getting off the mat, and finished the day with a 45-23 win to improve to 3-1 overall and in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

The Eagles now are in second place in the GLIAC South, one game behind first-place Ohio Dominican. The Oilers, ranked 25th in this week's American Football Coaches Association Top 25 poll, fall to 3-1 overall and 2-1 in the GLIAC.

"We just had guys step up and make plays at the end," said Ashland head coach Lee Owens.

The Eagles' defense got the game started on the right foot, stopping the Oilers on a fourth-and-three incomplete pass from the AU 32. On its first possession of the contest, Ashland's offense drove to the Findlay 12, and sophomore kicker Anthony McCarthy nailed a 29-yard field goal to give AU an early 3-0 lead.

On the ensuing kickoff, Eagles freshman defensive back Dale Irby recovered a fumble at the Oiler 27, leading to a three-yard touchdown run by junior running back Jordan McCune for a quick 10-0 lead just eight minutes into the game.

Findlay went for broke on fourth-and-1 from the Eagle 29, but a pass into the end zone fell incomplete. That turnover on downs led to a fourth-and-2 four-yard touchdown run by redshirt freshman quarterback Travis Tarnowski, his first collegiately. Ashland took a 17-0 lead after the first play of the second quarter. 

The Oilers' offense went high-tempo on the ensuing drive, moving to the AU four-yard line before settling for a 21-yard field goal by Tyler Bugeja.

Findlay then continued to gain momentum on its next possession, finishing that drive with a misdirection 46-yard touchdown screen pass from quarterback Verlon Reed to running back Chauncey Bridges to make it a 17-10 contest.

The Oilers then made it 13 consecutive points on Bugeja's 26-yard field goal with 53 seconds left until halftime.

Ashland was able to regain much-needed momentum with the opening drive of the second half, marching 63 yards in eight plays and finishing it off with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Tarnowski to senior wide receiver Eric Thompkins. The Eagles needed just 2:56 to stretch their lead to 24-13.

The Oilers, however, weren't about to go away. Bridges took a check-down swing pass from Reed and scampered 59 yards to get the game back to four points at 24-20 less than two minutes after the AU score.

Ashland's defense stopped Findlay on fourth down for the third time, this one at the Eagle 33 with 4:37 left in the third quarter, but couldn't turn it into points.

Bugeja came in early in the fourth quarter to try a 28-yard field goal, but it sailed wide right, as the Eagles dodged a Findlay attempt to get within a single point. It was Bugeja's first missed field goal of 2014.

Ashland saw a third-down pass from the Findlay 35 sail high, but offsetting hands-to-the-face penalties gave the Eagles another shot. That shot resulted in a Tarnowski-to-senior tight end Matt Schweitzer first down. On the next play, sophomore running back Vance Settlemire took a running play and went 56 yards down the left sideline to put AU ahead by 11 points once more, 31-20, with 12:01 to go in the fourth quarter.

The next drive abruptly was ended by Ashland senior defensive end Chase Hoobler, who reached out for a Reed pass and returned the interception 36 yards for a touchdown – and a 38-20 Eagle advantage.

Bugeja hit a 27-yard field goal with 8:19 left in regulation, but Findlay still was trailing 38-23. Settlemire then put the exclamation point on the victory when he took a handoff and raced 47 yards for his second touchdown, and a 45-23 lead with 5:14 to go.

Both Anthony Taylor (21 carries, 130 yards) and Settlemire (eight carries, 121 yards) went past the 120-yard mark rushing. Tarnowski was 17-for-29 for 172 yards, a touchdown and an interception. 

Ashland's defense, which yielded 516 yards to the Oilers, also kept Findlay to its lowest point total of the young season.

"They're really good on offense," Owens said of Findlay. "I really felt we needed 41 to win, they're just that good. To hold them to 23 is a really good day on defense."

The Eagles return home for a Week 5 night game against GLIAC rival Malone. The kickoff on Oct. 4 from Jack Miller Stadium/Martinelli Field will be at 7 p.m.