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Ashland breaks away from EP, 42-21

Mario Alcala has a big game for Ashland.

ASHLAND -- With the score tied 13-13 at the half and the Ashland Grizzlieshardly playing the part of the state's No. — team, coach Jim Nagel was unfazed.

Recognizing the opportunity at hand, the Southern Oregon Conference'sresident professor of Xs and Os challenged his team to treat the secondhalf as a primer for the playoffs.

Ashland responded by scoring on its first four possessions of the secondhalf in pulling away for a 42-21 victory at Walter A. Phillips Field.

The first half was probably the poorest half of football we'veplayed all year, Nagel said. I told the guys this was a greatopportunity to be tested and we quickly responded in the second half andgot things under control.

The victory boosted the Grizzlies to 4-0 in the SOC and overall, whileNo. 10 Eagle Point dropped to 1-2 in the conference and 2-2 overall.

The Eagles also sustained a bitter blow on their first defensive seriesof the second half when star wide receiver/safety/kicker Luke Scott wassidelined by a thumb injury.

We were killing ourselves in the first half with penalties,said Ashland senior halfback Mario Alcala. We'd get big plays andthen kill ourselves. We knew the second half was a test for us.

On a night when the Grizzlies rang up 501 yards in total offense, noneof them were bigger than the 5 yards Alcala covered midway through thirdquarter when he bounced outside to his right, juked one defender and thenburst across the goal line.

Alcala's run capped a 10-play, 58-yard drive after an Eagle Point puntto start the second half. The TD gave the Grizzlies the lead for good andset the tone for the second half. The Eagles gained 2 yards before puntingon their next possession and Ashland jammed the ball down the Eagles' throatin a six-play drive in which all 51 yards came on the ground. Alcala's 28-yardrun behind a punishing block by Austin Page gave the Grizz a first and goalat the EP 2 and then he duplicated his previous scoring route on the nextplay.

The third quarter is when we win games, said Ashland runningback Ben Ross, whose blocks helped spring Alcala for 141 yards on 18 carries.Ross added 50 yards on 13 attempts.

We weren't going to run that much outside, but they changed thingsfrom what we saw on film and their ends were slanting more, so we startedrunning outside, Ross said.

With the talented Scott gone from his free safety position, the Grizzlieswent for the kill on the third play of the fourth quarter.

Quarterback Erik Nagel, who connected on 11 of 18 passes for 317 yardsand three touchdowns, threw over the middle to Brian Luman. The speedy Grizzlysplit the Eagle safeties, angled left and turned on the afterburners fora 70-yard score.

That was the back-breaker to get up by (three) touchdowns,Luman said.

The Eagles, who had cashed in on two Ashland miscues in the first half,kept hope alive by scoring on the next play from scrimmage. Sean Johnstonraced down the left sideline 80 yards, leaving Luman and Ross grasping forair.

It was a draw and where I was trying to go was closed, Johnstonsaid. So I kicked out and it was off to the races. I was kind of surprised.

But the Grizzlies weren't through.

Cy Aleman, who was as impressive blocking and defending as he was catchingfour passes for 137 yards, hauled in his second TD pass as Nagel launcheda 33-yard strike under duress.

We knew they really hadn't stopped us in the first half, we hadstopped ourselves, Erik Nagel said.

When the Grizzlies errored in the early going, the Eagles pounced asif they spotted rodents in the desert.

When Ross coughed up the ball following a 17-yard gain, Josh Hollingerand Dan Shopp were there to corral it.

Two plays later, Shopp ran an option to his left and kept knocking defendersback until he fell into the end zone along with four tacklers.

The kick failed and the Eagles led 6-0 with 6:29 left in the first quarter.

But true to its reputation, Ashland responded in lightning fashion asAleman raced 62 yards after eluding Johnston for a TD.

After Eagle Point turned the ball over on downs, Ashland marched 72 yardsin 10 plays with Ross hammering over from the 3.

Then after another Eagle Point drive died in Ashland territory, the Grizzliestook over with 1:12 left in the half. A long pass to Ryan Rackley was nullifiedby a clip and Ashland eventually had to punt with a half minute to left.

But the snap bounced past Alcala, who was leveled by Jason Taylor ashe retrieved the ball at the Grizzly 5.

On first down, Shopp took the snap lowered his head and powered throughthe Ashland defense to the end zone. Shopp finished with 132 yards passing,completing 6 of 19 passes.

I figured I had a good chance to make something happened,said Taylor, who blocked another punt as well.

But the Grizzlies turned it around after the intermission.

We knew Eagle Point wouldn't be a walk the park, said Ashlandtackle Matt Webb. We were geared up for them, but in the first halfwe weren't together too much.

And now the Grizzlies have their shot at two-time defending Class 4Astate champion Roseburg next Friday at Finlay Field.

With Friday night's 75-0 win over Klamath Union, the Indians can matchJefferson's 4A record of 33 consecutive victories by beating Ashland.

I guess I could say if someone was deserving of a long win streaklike that, it would be Roseburg said coach Nagel. It would be greatfor a team coming out of our conference to do that.

It would be too bad too spoil that. But then Thurman (Bell, Roseburg'scoach) has spoiled a few of my Friday nights in the past few years.

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Ashland breaks away from EP, 42-21