THE TURNING POINT: After Tiffin cut its deficit to 24-17, Ashland scored rushing touchdowns late in the third quarter and midway through the fourth to pull away.
STAT OF THE GAME: The Eagles have scored at least 38 points in four straight games, and six times overall in 2017.
TIFFIN – Ashland University's football team remembered what happened more than a year ago at Frost-Kalnow Stadium.
Saturday (Oct. 21) afternoon's 38-24 win at Tiffin, however, wasn't as much about payback for a 35-32 defeat in 2016 as it was about staying in the hunt for a 2017 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championship and a spot in the NCAA Division II postseason.
"They're a good football team, and that was a good win for us," said Ashland head coach Lee Owens, who now has a .700 winning percentage (105-45) guiding the Eagles. "We're worried about this year. This was going to be a huge challenge. It's another huge challenge overcome."
The Eagles are 7-1 overall and 6-0 in the GLIAC after their seventh consecutive win, and lead the conference standings outright following Grand Valley State's 28-27 loss at Ferris State on Saturday. The Dragons are 5-3, 4-2.
After forcing a punt on the opening drive of the game, Ashland wasted no time taking a 7-0 lead. On the fourth play of their first possession, the Eagles got on the board on a 36-yard touchdown run by junior tailback Andrew Vaughn with just 3:52 off the clock.
A drive that started with a fumble recovery by junior defensive end James Prater Jr., then aided by a 49-yard pass from senior quarterback Travis Tarnowski to sophomore wide receiver Stanley Jackson Jr., was finished off by senior kicker Aidan Simenc's 25-yard field goal. Less than 12 minutes into the game, the Eagles had a 10-0 advantage.
Early in the second quarter, the Dragons started at the AU 38-yard line following a punt, and Tiffin cut its deficit to 10-3 following a 37-yard field goal by Joe Metcalf. Vaughn got going once again on Ashland's next drive, and his 30-yard run led to a 9-yard shuffle pass touchdown from Tarnowski to sophomore tailback Keishaun Sims.
Sims' first career reception as an Eagle lifted Ashland to a 17-3 lead with 6:44 to go until halftime. That lead was extended at the 2:35 mark of the second quarter when Tarnowski found redshirt freshman wide receiver Logan Bolin, who broke a tackle en route to a 29-yard scoring pass.
Tiffin scored the first rushing touchdown against the first-team Eagle defense in 2017 with 33 seconds until the break when running back JaQuan Hardy went in from three yards out for the halftime margin of 24-10.
After Ashland began the third quarter with a missed field goal and a punt, the Dragons made it a 24-17 contest at the 5:47 mark on a 60-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Nick Watson to wide receiver Tyler Denton.
But as was the case throughout the game, the Eagles responded with a long run – this time a 39-yarder from Sims for AU's longest run of 2017. Vaughn put Ashland back on top by two scores at 31-17 on a nine-yard touchdown jaunt to the end zone pylon.
Tiffin missed a 46-yard field goal with 11:41 to play and with the Eagles maintaining a two-touchdown advantage, then Sims iced the game with a 33-yard touchdown run just inside of the seven-minute mark.
Ashland ran for a season-high 294 yards, paced by Vaughn's career-high 175 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. Sims added 93 yards and a score on 10 totes.
"It feels so good when you can go through the line and get five yards without getting hit," Vaughn said. "They (the offensive line) were taking it to them from the get-go."
"I think we're going to get better and better with the run," Owens said. "Our guys are getting healthier, our running backs are getting healthy. The guys up front, they wanted to make a statement."
Tarnowski was 11-for-22 for 172 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
Defensively, an effort which kept Tiffin to 30 rushing yards on 30 attempts was led by Prater Jr., who racked up seven total tackles, five tackles for loss, 2½ sacks and a fumble recovery. The five tackles behind the line of scrimmage were one short of the Eagle single-game record.
"It feels great to get a win after what happened last season," Prater Jr. said. "The defense stepped up, the offense played great, so that's what we needed."
Senior stud Austin Utter added five total stops, 2½ tackles for loss and 1½ sacks.
Simenc set the Ashland career record for extra points made following his 5-for-5 effort on Saturday. He now has 160 PATs.
UP NEXT: The final regular-season road game of 2017, Oct. 28 at noon vs. Wayne State (3-5, 2-4).