THE TURNING POINT: Ashland's defense set the tone early again, keeping Northern Michigan to three points in a goal-to-go situation on the first drive of the game.
STAT OF THE GAME: The Eagle "D" has allowed just 16 points in the last three games and 30 in the four, and hasn't given up a first-half touchdown in any of the last four contests.
The formula has been the same for Ashland University's football team in the last five weeks – defense sets the tone early, offense puts the Eagles on top and defense closes the game out.
In a game which lasted roughly 2½ hours, No. 18-ranked Ashland faced Northern Michigan on Saturday (Oct. 7) afternoon in the Superior Dome, and came away with a fifth consecutive victory, 38-13. The Eagles are 5-1 overall and 4-0 in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, and are tied with Grand Valley State for first place in the conference after Saturday's early-afternoon games.
The Wildcats are 1-4, 1-3.
Ashland's defense continued its bend-but-don't-break ways in 2017 to begin the game, stopping Northern Michigan in a goal-to-go situation and forcing the Wildcats to settle for an 18-yard field goal at the end of an 11-play, 75-yard drive.
The start of the Eagles' opening drive of the contest was helped by the ensuing kickoff going out of bounds. Senior quarterback Travis Tarnowski connected with senior wide receiver Matthew Wilcox for a 17-yard touchdown and a 7-3 Ashland lead at the 7:10 mark of the first quarter.
Early in the second period, the Eagles extended their lead to 14-3 thanks to their longest drive of the season in terms of plays and time of possession. Ashland ran 17 plays, gained 77 yards and took 9:15 off the clock, finishing the drive with a one-yard touchdown run by sophomore tailback Keishaun Sims.
Tarnowski and Wilcox hooked up for their second TD in the air of the first half with 2:31 to go until the break, this one for 13 yards to make Ashland's lead 21-3. The Eagles capped the first half with a career-long 40-yard field goal off the foot of senior kicker Aidan Simenc for a three-touchdown advantage with 23 seconds remaining.
The second quarter was a continuation of both teams' season-long trends. Ashland has outscored opponents 106-31 in the second stanza in 2017, while Northern Michigan has been outscored in that same period, 65-3.
To begin the third quarter, the Eagles turned in another goal-to-go defensive stand, and the Wildcats converted another short field goal of 20 yards to cut their deficit to 24-6. Ashland took the ensuing possession and got back on the scoreboard on a seven-yard touchdown run from junior fullback Mack Mikulski – the first score of his Eagle career.
Ashland's offense scored its final points of the day on a fourth-quarter touchdown run by junior tailback Andrew Vaughn, a 17-yarder. It is the fifth straight game in which Vaughn has scored at least one touchdown on the ground.
The Wildcats scored on a six-yard touchdown pass with 10:13 to go in the game – the first TD yielded by the Eagles since 3:45 was left in the game at Northwood on Sept. 16.
Tarnowski's two touchdown passes give him 15 on the season with no interceptions, and his streak of consecutive passes without a pick now stands at 191. He was 19-for-29 for 291 yards in the victory. Tarnowski also became the first Eagle to reach the 10,000-yard plateau in total offense (10,050).
Wilcox grabbed two touchdowns in a game for the second time this season, and the third time in the last seven outings. Junior wideout Kamaron Green caught six passes for 106 yards.
An Eagle defense which racked up eight tackles for loss and allowed just 260 yards of offense to the Wildcats was led by senior stud Austin Utter, who collected seven total tackles and two sacks.
UP NEXT: The 2017 Homecoming game at Jack Miller Stadium/Martinelli Field on Oct. 14 at 1 p.m. vs. Michigan Tech (3-3, 2-2).