Story and photo courtesy of Ashland Athletics
On Thursday outside of Ashland University's Troop Center, physical plant employees were painting the curb a bright shade of yellow.
On Saturday (Oct. 13), inside Jack Miller Stadium/Martinelli Field, just a couple of first downs away from that paint job, the Ashland University Eagles whitewashed Walsh, 30-0. Sherman Williams didn't participate but just about everyone else did as the Eagles put on a thick coat that has a nice shine to it.
The Eagles, ranked eighth in the nation, are 7-0 (6-0 GLIAC) for the first time since 1991. They have shut out two opponents in a season for the first time since 1993. Walsh had seven first downs, 60 yards rushing, 56 yards passing and 116 yards of total offense.
That rushing total allowed is AU's best since Indianapolis rushed for 16 yards on Oct. 31, 2009. The passing yards allowed is the lowest since Northwood threw for 51 yards on Oct. 1, 2011. The total yards figure dates back to before 1994 when the statistics became computerized.
AU's first shutout this season was a 7-0 win over Wayne State. The last defense to pitch two or more shutouts in a season was the 1993 unit which had four.
"We played great out there today," said junior l inebacker Cody Bloom (Napoleon, Ohio) who had a team-high nine tackles (three solo). "It was assignment sound and people were making plays. It had a lot to do with the offense, they were running the clock down."
Bloom has a point – Ashland had the ball for 35:58, which meant that for much of the afternoon, the defense was resting along the sideline. But when that defense was on the field, Walsh could do little more than run a paint-by-the-numbers offense. The Cavs ran 42 plays and their longest gain was 15 yards.
"Defensively we took a big step forward," acknowledged AU head coach Lee Owens. "They are a great running team and they have a good receiver in (Anthony) Schrock. In the past we'd have a letup or two, let them get a drive or two and get back in the game. We didn't do that, we stopped that."
Told that this was the first time since 1993 that the Eagles had two shutouts in a season, defensive coordinator Tim Rose got a puzzled expression on his face, smiled, and said, "Wow."
Walsh had nine possessions. The Cavaliers (2-5/1-5 GLIAC) had five three-and-out series and two more possessions that lasted five plays. Their best drive of the afternoon went 12 plays and accounted for 51 yards.
"We talk about playing as good as we can play and we'll see what follows," replied Bloom, when asked if the defense enters games aiming for shutouts. "We're playing well, but there's room for improvement. We're not near where we need to be. There are always things you can work on. Fundamentals, as the season goes on, you can get lazy."
The Eagles did not show a slacker side in this game. The energy in the stadium didn't equal earlier games this season, but maybe that's because the crowd of 4,552 had a feeling that this would be a workmanlike performance. AU scored twice in the first quarter. Senior quarterback Taylor Housewright (Ashland, Ohio) threw a pair of scoring passes to senior wide receiver Anthony Capasso (Columbia Station, Ohio/St. Edward) to put AU in front, 14-0 after 15 minutes. The throws covered 20 and nine yards. Housewright, who completed 25-of-34 passes for 300 yards, has 19 touchdown passes. Housewright's career high in touchdown passes is 24, established in 2010.
Capasso caught 11 passes for 101 yards. That was a season high in catches and it was his second 100-yard game of the season. Capasso has five,100-yard games in his career.
"Awesome, he's amazing," said Capasso, when asked to describe the way Housewright is playing at this point in the season. "He's like Peyton Manning out there."
Ashland's next two touchdowns came courtesy of sophomore running back Jordan McCune (Bellville, Ohio/Clear Fork). He had a 1-yard plunge with 7:20 left in the first half to give the Eagles a 20-0 halftime lead (AU missed the extra point).
McCune also found the end zone on a 14-yard scoring run with 9:33 left in the third quarter. McCune ended the afternoon with 56 yards on 13 carries.
Another sophomore, Anthony Taylor (Arlington, Va./Washington-Lee), had 68 yards on 16 carries.
AU's past points came on a 28-yard Cameron Casey (Rochester, Mich./Adams) field goal with 10:53 left in the game. Casey is 6-for-6 on field goal tries.
Even with a commanding lead and the Cavaliers showing no signs of being able to generate any offense, the Eagles never lost their focus. That was just as impressive as the way the defense played.
"The sign of a team with maturity, tough-mindedness and discipline is you play at your level," said Owens. "The opponent doesn't impact your level of play."
AU has four regular season games remaining. The Eagles figure to be favored in every one of those. One of the major tasks for the coaching staff over the next month will be to keep the Eagles focused on the task at hand. Yet players and coaches insist that isn't a problem. They have talked repeatedly about last season, when the Eagles were in contention for a postseason berth and struggled down the stretch. That happened a year ago but in the minds of this team, it's a fresh memory. This team is a big proponent of William Faulkner's line, "The past is never the past."
"We're not going to do that," said Owens, when asked if he was preparing this team for a bigger prize down the road. "We're not going to take anyone lightly. We respect everyone. We won't change. It's been good so far. It's a very unselfish focus. It's created a chemistry and a belief. The process works. Regardless of the opponent, the process works. Everyone's bought into it."
Next up is Malone, in Canton, Ohio, on Saturday (Oct. 20, 7 p.m.). The Eagles will be trying to go 8-0 for the first time since 1972. That team went 11-0.