The Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference's South Division has a frontrunner in football, and it's Ashland University.
For the second week in a row, the Eagles, ranked No. 13 in the country, gutted out a key GLIAC South win at Jack Miller Stadium/Martinelli Field. On Saturday (Sept. 26) night, it was a 40-28 decision over Findlay. Ashland is 4-0 overall and in the GLIAC after its ninth consecutive home win, while the Oilers fall to 3-1, 2-1.
The Eagles are a full game ahead of second-place Tiffin (3-1, 3-1) in the South, and 1½ games ahead of Findlay.
"This is good bunch of guys, and there's never any panic," said Ashland head coach Lee Owens. "We never lose our composure, and just keep with the plan. That (Findlay) is a good football team, a really good offensive football team."
Ashland displayed toughness, fortitude and character in the second half after Findlay twice made it a five-point contest. Ahead 26-21 late in the third quarter, on a second-and-29 play, sophomore quarterback Travis Tarnowski's swing pass to junior tailback Vance Settlemire turned into a 66-yard touchdown to put AU ahead 33-21.
Then, with the Eagles ahead 33-28 in the fourth quarter, Tarnowski capped off a 15-play, 92-yard drive that took 8:41 off the clock with a seven-yard scoring run for the final margin of victory.
"We took some time off the clock, gave our defense a chance to catch its breath," Owens said.
One week after posting a career-high 152 rushing yards at home against Ohio Dominican, Settlemire ran 30 times for 210 yards and a TD – AU's first 200-plus-yard rushing game since Anthony Taylor's 237 at home against Tiffin on Nov. 9, 2013.
Settlemire finished the night with 276 yards and two touchdowns from scrimmage, and in the last two games, he has run for 362 yards and three scores on 55 carries (6.6-yard average).
"He's such a dynamic player, such a total player," Owens said. "He catches the ball out of the backfield, he blocks well. He's good inside, he's good outside. Vance brings so much to the table."
Tarnowski was 13-for-27 for 240 yards and three touchdowns – one each to Settlemire (66 yards), sophomore wide receiver Terrance Burt (75) and senior fullback Aaron Weyer (six). Sophomore tight end Adam Shaheen caught seven passes for 70 yards.
While the offense was racking up 40 points and 495 yards of offense, the AU defense picked off Findlay quarterback Rhys Gervais, who hadn't been picked off in 2015 prior to Saturday night, three times. Junior inside linebacker Brandon Gency had 10 total tackles (seven solo), a sack and a tackle for loss, while sophomore cornerback Dale Irby posted nine total stops (seven solo) and an interception.
Ashland will go back on the road for a Week 5 GLIAC matchup with Malone on Saturday (Oct. 3) at 2 p.m. at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.
EAGLE NUGGETS: Ashland's five longest scoring drives were 92, 75, 72, 61 and 61 yards…The Eagles were 4-of-5 on fourth-down conversions against the Oilers after going 0-for-2 in the first three games of the season…Ashland scored 23 unanswered points in the second quarter. It was the second time the Eagles have scored at least that many in a row in 2015 (28 consecutive points in Week 1 at Lake Erie)…AU's 10 touchdown passes this season has been caught by seven different players…Senior defensive tackle Tim Lehr has a team-high 3½ sacks in four games, a half-sack more than the team's individual high of three in 2014.