ASHLAND — His team turned the ball over three times and gave up a 99 yard kickoff return for a touchdown — and still had a chance to beat a top 10 team on the road despite not having played a meaningful game since 2019.
Ashland University coach Lee Owens didn’t like the outcome, but he loved the fight his Eagles showed in last week’s season-opening 42-35 overtime loss at No. 9 Notre Dame.
“If you think back to 2019, that was a trademark of that team,” Owens said. “We came back so many times. We were never out of the game. We kept fighting until the end.
“And this team is going to be the same way.”
Ashland (0-1) will face an even bigger test in Saturday’s home opener, when No. 2 Ferris State invades Jack Miller Stadium after pounding Findlay 54-14 last week.
“We go from No. 9 in the country to No. 2 in the country. From the frying pan into the fire,” Owens said. “This is going to be a challenge. This is a really good football team.”
Led by senior quarterback Jared Bernhardt, Ferris piled up 625 yards of total offense. Bernhardt, who was the NCAA Division I National Lacrosse Player of the Year at Maryland last spring, completed 12 of 14 passes for 218 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 120 yards and four TDs on 12 carries in his collegiate football debut. He was selected the D2Football.com National Offensive Player of the Week.
Bernhardt’s favorite target was Marcus Taylor, who caught six passes for 103 yards and a touchdown.
Ashland dominated statistically against Notre Dame. The Eagles piled up 548 yards of total offense compared to 296 for the Falcons. AU was 10 of 15 on third down conversions ran 84 plays to Notre Dame’s 63 and dominated the time of possession (35:29 to 24:31).
AU’s undoing was in ball security. The Eagles lost two fumbles — one of which was returned 65 yards for a touchdown — and had one pass intercepted. Notre Dame returned the second half kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown.
Ashland quarterback Austin Brenner completed 22 of 36 passes for 352 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 89 yards and two scores on 14 carries. Garrett Turnbaugh caught six passes for 92 yards, while KeShun Jones had three receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown. Running back Gei’vonni Washington carried the ball 28 times for 92 yards and a touchdown.
“They say you make the biggest improvement from Week 1 to Week 2 and that’s what we need to do because this Ferris team is legit,” Owens said. “We’ll fight this thing for 60 minutes against Ferris State. There will be no quit. You’re going to see great character out there.”