DII football: Ashland pulls off huge upset of No. 2 Ferris State in defensive battle
THE TURNING POINT: Ashland scored 10 points late in the second quarter to take a 13-3 lead into halftime.
STAT OF THE GAME: The Eagles held NCAA Division II's total offense leader (645.0 ypg.) to 228 yards in the victory.
RELATED: AFCA DII poll
Jack Miller Stadium/Martinelli Field has been open for business since 2009.
Ashland University's football team has won 38 games at home since then, but the one the Eagles earned on Saturday (Sept. 23) night might rank at the top. Playing the No. 2-ranked team in NCAA Division II, Ferris State, Ashland came away with a hard-fought 20-3 victory.
Winning a nationally-televised game which had ramifications three ways – in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, regionally and nationally – the Eagles improve to 3-1 overall and 2-0 in the league. Ashland is tied with Tiffin in the GLIAC standings, just a half-game behind Grand Valley State for first place.
The Bulldogs (2-1, 1-1) came into Saturday's game as the nation's leader in both total offense (645.0 ypg.) and rushing offense (366.0 ypg.). Ferris State gained just 228 yards of total offense and 127 yards on the ground vs. the Eagles.
"I told coach (Tim) Rose after the game," Ashland head coach Lee Owens said of his defensive coordinator, "he's painted some Picassos in his time here that are just beautiful. But that painting tonight was amazing."
"Ashland had a great defensive game plan," said Ferris State head coach Tony Annese. "We couldn't get any explosive plays going."
Leading the defensive charge was junior defensive end James Prater Jr., who racked up seven total tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss and three pass breakups.
"It's a great victory," Prater Jr. said. "It's a great win. We trust in coach (Rose). He is a wild man, and I have so much respect for him. His game plans are on point."
Senior cornerback Dale Irby and freshman corner Colton Paul each intercepted passes, while sophomore inside linebacker Clay Shreve recovered a fumble, as the Eagles finished the night at plus-three in the turnover battle.
Offensively, senior wide receiver Matthew Wilcox caught five passes for 106 yards, while senior quarterback Travis Tarnowski was 17-for-36 for 177 yards and a score. Tarnowski became the program's all-time leader in total offense yards with 9,669.
On special teams, Tarnowski punted nine times, and landed six inside the Bulldogs' 20-yard line.
Both teams traded field goals early on – senior Aidan Simenc's 34-yarder for Ashland and Wyatt Ford's 42-yarder for FSU. The tide turned late in the second quarter, when Tarnowski found junior linebacker-turned-fullback Cameron Barker for a 3-yard scoring pass with 4:28 left until halftime.
After Shreve recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, Simenc hit a 24-yard field goal to put Ashland ahead 13-3 going into the locker room.
The game's final score came early in the fourth quarter, when junior tailback Andrew Vaughn cut back from left to right for a nine-yard TD run.
On Ferris State's final five drives, it gained a total of 21 yards on 15 plays.
"We just took over the game," Owens said. "There were some guys on our defense that they just couldn't block."
Ashland extended its regular-season home winning streak to 19 games with the victory.
Prior to Saturday night's game, Owens was honored for his 100th win with the Eagles in Week 3 at Northwood. At halftime, the 1997 Ashland Division II playoff team was recognized.
UP NEXT: Back on the road for another GLIAC game on Sept. 30 at noon at Davenport (0-4, 0-3).