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...
EAGLE POINT — From the Eagle Point Eagles' perspective, they had the Ashland Grizzlies right where they wanted them — facing a third-and-14 and in danger of giving the ball back to the Eagles in a one-possession game.
From Ashland quarterback Danial White's perspective, same thing.
White's 23-yard touchdown scramble capped a magnificent day for the senior quarterback as No. 3-ranked Ashland fought off a second-half surge to beat Eagle Point 33-17 and finish off an undefeated run through the Midwestern League Friday at Eagle Stadium.
Two years after struggling in his first game here as a sophomore, White exacted his revenge, completing 15 of 20 passes for 149 yards and three touchdowns without an interception while also rushing for 112 yards and another score.
The win gave Ashland its first undefeated regular season since 2007 and clinched for the Grizzlies (9-0, 6-0 MWL) an automatic berth to the Class 5A round of 16.
"I think it's awesome," Ashland head coach Charlie Hall said. "It's a great tribute to our kids and our staff and I'm excited about them. And I know we're going to look forward to a couple weeks off here and we're looking forward to having a home playoff game."
That will be in two weeks against an opponent to be determined.
Eagle Point (5-4, 3-3) scored the first 10 points of the second half to get within 25-17 early in the fourth quarter, but was shut out the rest of the way and watched its four-game winning streak come to an end. Now, the Eagles must prepare for a play-in game next week for a spot in the 16-team state tournament.
"We're fighters," Eagle Point first-year head coach Seth Womack said. "I love these kids to death. They're going to give us everything they have and I'm just proud of them. The transformation these guys have had over these last six months since I've been here — I'm just so proud of these kids. They're amazing kids."
The Grizzlies nearly ran away with the game in the first half, scoring touchdowns on their first four possessions to take a 25-7 lead into the break.
White was the catalyst. The dual-threat lefty completed 12 of 14 passes for 130 yards and rushed for 41 yards in the first two quarters. His 28-yard touchdown pass to Matt Hedges on a gadget play gave the Grizzlies the lead for good, 13-7, and his short pass to Parker Layton in the flat turned into a 11-yard walk-in TD that made it 19-7.
White and Layton hooked up again before the half was up on a 20-yard post and the Grizzlies roared into the half with all the momentum.
"We had a good plan on what we wanted to do and our kids had a good week of practice," Hall said. "You can start fast but you've got to finish, and it was kind of a hard second half for us. It's never easy to come here and play well. We've had our troubles over the years so it's kind of good to get that monkey off of our back."
Layton finished with seven catches for 55 yards and the two touchdowns, while Ashland running back Ryne Robitz rushed for 70 yards — 53 in the first half — and a touchdown.
Led by their own combo QB, senior Jorge Quintero, the Eagles made a game of it in the second half. After a leg injury during the kickoff return led to a 30-minute delay — EP sophomore Ryan Lorenz was carted off the field and his status was unknown at press time — the Eagles marched 75 yards on their opening drive of the third quarter to cut the deficit to 25-14.
Less than a minute later, the Eagles were celebrating their first defensive stop of the night, then made it count by driving 55 yards for a field goal.
For Ashland, it could have been worse. The Eagles steamrolled to the Ashland 2 for a first-and-goal and were stuffed about 2 feet from the goal line before a false start on second down pushed them back.
That set up Ashland's most important possession of the game. The Grizzlies knocked it out of the park, driving from their own 40 to the Eagles' 19 in three plays before temporarily stalling. White took over from there. With the pro-Eagle Point crowd on its feet, White took the snap, waited a beat then darted up the middle into wide-open space. The Eagles' secondary converged on him at about the 5-yard line, but White slithered through a host of tacklers before crossing the goal line and raising the ball in celebration.
"(White's) a good quarterback and he's a good competitor," Womack said. "They're fortunate to have a good player like him and he made a play when he was needed. If we had forced them to punt right there, who knows what would have happened."
Quintero did all he could to match White, completing 19 of 23 passes for 251 yards and two touchdowns. He threw one interception late in the fourth quarter as the Eagles were in desperation mode.
Ashland outgained Eagle Point in total offense, 353 yards to 309, including 204-58 on the ground.
Ashland's Cody Eisenberg had four of Ashland's six sacks.
For Eagle Point, Seth Arena had nine catches for 60 yards, Carlos Flores four catches for 57 yards and Lucas Morris three catches for 52 yards.