ASHLAND — As disheartening as it was, Ashland University’s 34-24 loss to Ohio Dominican seemed inconsequential compared to the loss the Eagles suffered during the first quarter Saturday at Jack Miller Stadium.
Quarterback Austin Brenner went down with what appeared to be a serious leg injury with 4:49 remaining in the opening period after a short third-down run. Brenner was taken from the field on stretcher, an air cast stabilizing his injured leg.
“I’ve done this for a long time and I’ve seen injuries. It’s one of the worst parts of this game,” a shaken AU coach Lee Owens said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever felt one or had one hurt as badly as this one did.
“The season that he’s having, first of all, and how it was looking fort him leading our offense. But more than that, he’s the toughest competitor on our team. He’s the heart of our team. He’s the spiritual leader of our team.
"We go as he goes. … The reason we’re in this game is to be around guys like Austin Brenner.”
With Brenner pulling the trigger, the Eagles (2-3, 1-1 Great Midwest Athletic Conference) marched down the field on their opening drive and took a quick 7-0 lead. Brenner capped the six-play, 75-yard drive when he hooked up with Garrett Turnbaugh on a 10-yard scoring strike with 12:36 remaining in the first quarter.
Ohio Dominican (5-1, 2-0) responded with a 14-play, 77-yard scoring drive. Quarterback Evan Ernst connected with David Turner on a 10-yard touchdown pass to tie it at 7-7 with 6:20 remaining in the opening period.
Tragedy struck for the Eagles three plays later. Brenner was flushed from the pocket on third-and-five and turned upfield, where he was met by ODU defensive end Eddie Miller-Garrett, who landed on Brenner’s lower body.
Trent Maddox, a true freshman from Olentangy High School, came on in relief of Brenner. Maddox tossed a 13-yard touchdown pass to Malik Wooldridge to give the Eagles a 14-10 lead early in the second quarter and orchestrated a 14-play, 73-yard march in the third quarter culminating in tailback Larry Martin’s 1-yard dive to give AU a 21-17 edge.
The Panthers reclaimed the advantage early in the fourth on Ernst’s 1 yard TD pass to Spencer Klopfenstein, but the Eagles tied it at 24-24 on Storm Elsesser’s 44-yard field goal with 8:44 remaining.
ODU moved in front 27-24 on a Jed Quackenbush 41-yard field goal with 5:49 to play. The Panthers iced it when Miller-Garrett hit Maddox from behind and forced a fumble that Jaylin Garner scooped up and returned 5 yards for a score in the final minute.
Maddox completed 11-of-23 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown. He was picked off once.
“He put us in a situation where we had a chance to win at the end,” Owens said. “I don’t think I did a very good job at the end. I think I managed him right up to the end and at that point you couldn’t manage him anymore.
"He had to make some plays and he just hadn’t prepared for that avalanche of a two-minute offense and how fast you have to get the ball out of your hand.
“He had never been in it before. Right up to the very end I was overwhelmed by how well he was playing.”
AU rushed for 214 yards as a team. Eli Potts led the way with 70 yards on eight carries. Gei’vonni Washington had 67 yards on 11 carries, while Martin added 62 yards on 12 attempts.
Ernst completed 18-of-25 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns for ODU. Turner had seven catches for 57 yards and. Score, while James Morgan had five receptions for 74 yards.
All thoughts were on Brenner after the game.
“He’s a key guy in our locker room,” said AU linebacker Michael Ayers, who had 19 tackles and a sack. “He’s a captain and he’s our leader. He’s our heart.”