Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
ASHLAND — Backup quarterback Connor Kaegi came off the bench to give Ashland's offense a much-needed spark, and Jon Volz had two of Ashland's four interceptions as the Grizzlies rebounded nicely from last week by drilling Churchill 29-13 Friday at Walter A. Phillips Field.
Kaegi completed 9 of 16 passes for 133 yards and led two Ashland touchdown drives in the second half, and the player he replaced, Danial White, scored on a 52-yard keeper to ice the game late in the fourth quarter, giving Ashland its first Midwestern League win of the season.
It followed a 47-0 loss to third-ranked Marist last Friday.
"It's a total team victory," Ashland coach Charlie Hall said. "There's not one guy here who deserves all the credit. Guys stepped up when they needed to, and I'm really proud of the way we responded because we challenged them. Last week was very embarrassing, very demoralizing, and we talked about the concept of a wounded animal. If someone comes into our den right here, we've got to get after it."
Quaid Walters caught six passes for 103 yards, including a crucial third-down grab late in the third quarter to continue a drive that was eventually capped by Kaegi's sneak TD from the 2 that gave Ashland (2-2, 1-1 MWL) a 15-7 lead.
R.J. Atteberry had six catches for 93 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown early in the fourth that put Ashland in front 22-7.
Churchill (3-1, 1-1) cut the deficit to 10 points on Lamora Weston's 1-yard dive with 3:15 to go, but Mitch Reese's two-point conversion pass was dropped by Dylan Webber and White scored on Ashland's next play from scrimmage to put the game out of reach.
"We got outplayed by a team that wanted to play football tonight, and my guys didn't," Churchill coach Darrell Mehl said. "We knew they'd be tough because they play tough at home. They wanted to play and we didn't seem like we wanted to play very hard."
Reese completed 20 of 33 passes for 209 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 50 yards, but he was intercepted twice by Volz and once each by Sebastian Warren and Matt Hedges. Warren's pick came on the first play of the fourth quarter, and his 41-yard return set up Ashland nicely at the Churchill 12.
Two plays later, Kaegi hit Atteberry with a quick swing pass and the senior receiver juked out two would-be tacklers on his way to the most electric touchdown of the day.
Ashland outgained Churchill in total yards, 431-310, including 300-209 through the air. White also had a hand in that, completing 11 of 17 passes for 167 yards and a first-quarter TD.
That White-to-Volz connection completed a 12-play, 77-yard drive that gave the Grizzlies a 6-0 lead midway through the first quarter. They added to it two minutes later when sophomore Ryne Robitz blocked Brenden Joyce's punt out of the end zone for a safety following a high snap.
Reese's 13-yard touchdown pass to Webber with two minutes to go in the first half cut Ashland's lead to 9-7 following the PAT and gave the Lancers some momentum heading into the half.
But Ashland's defense held firm in the third, allowing the Grizzlies to stay ahead despite spinning their wheels on their first two drives of the second half. On the third, Ashland took over at the Churchill 45 and marched to the end zone in five plays to finally gain some breathing room.
Kaegi's third-and-four pass to Walters was a killer for the visitors. Rolling to his right, Kaegi found Walters open over the middle, and the 5-foot-7 receiver broke a tackle then slashed his way to the 2 for a 23-yard gain.
"Quaid was my last read on that," Kaegi said. "When I rolled out, nobody was open and I saw the safety come over on the streak by Carter (Glick), and I looked back to Quaid and I saw a little hole that I could fit it through."
Mason Montgomery led the Grizzlies' defense with 11 tackles and a sack, Brandon Vaughan had eight tackles and two sacks and Warren had five tackles.
Volz's second interception was a fingertip grab in the end zone that gave the ball back to the Grizzlies two minutes after they went ahead 23-7.
"I just loved their energy," Hall said of the Grizzlies. "They competed, they showed great courage. When the chips were down we made adjustments. It's a team thing, and whatever it takes we're going to make those decisions and make those changes so that the team can be successful. So a lot of guys out here did a good job."