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ASHLAND — New signal caller, same old story.
Senior quarterback Connor Kaegi was solid in his first varsity start, and Ashland's defense dominated North Eugene as the Grizzlies obliterated the Highlanders for the third year in a row, 55-0, in a Midwestern League contest Friday at Phillips Field.
Kaegi, who took most of the snaps while sharing time with junior Danial White, completed 9 of 14 passes for 186 yards, including a 33-yard touchdown pass to Jon Volz early in the second quarter that gave Ashland a 41-0 lead.
The Grizzlies added another score — White's third rushing touchdown of the day — to take a 48-0 lead into the half before coasting through the second half with a running clock (as per OSAA rules) that only slightly expedited the Highlanders' misery.
"I feel kind of bad for North Eugene — they're trying to build a program and they've had some injuries through the season," said Ashland head coach Charlie Hall, whose team beat North Eugene 51-0 last season and 57-13 in 2010. "We took them seriously and we came out with a plan and we did a good job. The offense did some better things tonight with the different segments that we showed."
With the win, Ashland climbed back to .500 at 3-3 overall and 2-2 in the MWL; North Eugene fell to 2-4 and 2-2.
Four Grizzlies ran for 40 yards or more, including sophomore Ryne Robitz, who properly introduced himself to the Grizzly faithful by busting off an 85-yard touchdown sprint in the third quarter. He finished with 120 yards on four carries to lead an Ashland team that racked up 275 yards rushing on 27 carries — a 10.2 yards per carry average.
Austin Chandler added 64 yards rushing, Jon Volz had 45 and White 43 for the Grizzlies, who took a 27-0 lead on Chandler's 17-yard touchdown run with 1:29 to go in the opening quarter.
"(The holes) were huge," Chandler said. "We just dominated them up front. The line just killed them. They were slanting outside on every play and we just ran up the middle. I used my speed to get by and broke tackles and we did what we had to do."
With the overmatched Highlanders in town, most of the pregame hype centered around Ashland's switch at quarterback, and Kaegi quickly asserted himself by completing his first four passes for 117 yards. That included a short dump on the first play of the game that Quaid Walters turned into a 66-yard gain and a 38-yard bomb to RJ Atteberry that set the table for Ashland's second TD.
Chandler's 9-yard sweep around the right end gave Ashland it's first touchdown of the game less than a minute into the first quarter, and following a North Eugene punt — the first of seven punts by the Highlanders — Ashland marched 55 yards in five plays to make it 14-0.
Atteberry intercepted a pass by North Eugene's Dane Stapley and ran it back 33 yards to make it 20-0. It was one of two picks thrown by Stapley, who had a rough night, completing just 5 of 17 passes for 25 yards.
None of Stapley's teammates fared much better, as the Highlanders were held to 70 yards of total offense — 45 rushing and 25 passing — easily the most impressive defensive performance of the season by the Grizzlies.
"We didn't take them lightly, that's for sure," said Walters, who had an interception on defense and three catches for 84 yards on offense. "We knew we had to prepare and they weren't just going to come down here and lay over. It was huge to get that win under our belt and get back to even at 3-3."
White's 1-yard sneak extended Ashland's lead to 34-0, and his 3-yard keeper capped a 65-yard drive and increased the lead to 48-0 with 3:59 to go in the first half. Playing as a backup for the first time, White completed his only pass for a 5-yard gain and spent most of his night handing off or running.
Afterward, Hall said the Kaegi-White combination worked well enough to earn another go next week against Marshfield.
"I think that's a good, solid package until they prove us wrong," he said. "I think they did what we expected them to do tonight — they were efficient, they got first downs. And they had time to throw, which is a credit to our offensive line."