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Eagles hold off late rally

EAGLE POINT — Jacob Schauffler, standing in the middle of a packed Eagle Point locker room, kicked off his postgame speech in lighthearted fashion, telling his football players that they're giving him too many gray hairs.

The comedic introduction was perfectly timed and drew laughs, but there was nothing funny about the end of the Eagles' hang-on-for-dear-life 20-14 victory over Ashland on Friday night.

But after navigating through a regular season marked by two dizzyingly close games — a win over Churchill on Sept. 9 and a loss to Springfield on Oct. 7 — Eagle Point chose to simply soak up the winning feeling with a bye week and then a Class 5A road play-in game on the horizon.

Using an oppressive and methodical ground attack and several jaw-dropping defensive efforts, the Eagles built up a 20-0 lead by the third quarter before the Grizzlies slowly clawed back into the game at Eagle Stadium.

Down just 20-14 with three minutes remaining in the contest, Ashland's Austin Chandler recovered an onside kick at the Eagle Point 49. And despite being sacked twice during the Grizzlies' final drive, quarterback Danial White gave his squad a chance to steal it, throwing a pass from around the Eagle Point 18 into the end zone on fourth-and-14 to Jon Volz that was nearly caught with Caleb Ash defending tightly.

Said Ash of his final effort against Volz: "I don't think I got a hand on the ball, I just tried to break on it as fast as I could and hit him before he could catch it."

And just like that, the Eagles — who last Thursday were held scoreless in the third quarter and allowed North Eugene to recover three of its four onside kicks in an unsettling 44-21 victory — walked away with a momentum-building triumph over their rivals.

Still, fans had to sweat it out late.

"We knew we would see the onside and knew we had to recover it," Schauffler said. "It was a perfect kick and really a perfect recovery by them. It really wasn't something bad we did. The ball took a perfect bounce. But then we've got to play defense and at that point we are thinking, 'We can do it, we've done it all night, but can we do it now that they have got the momentum a little bit?' That is what was really going through your head."

Eagle Point junior Jakob Combs finished with 99 rushing yards on 31 carries and senior Garrett Snow ran the ball 14 times for 77 yards with two touchdowns (2 yards and 12 yards) in the Midwestern League win.

The pounding was relentless.

"(The Eagle Point offensive line) just ate them up, they just ate them up," said Snow, who also had an interception playing middle linebacker. "They were physical and they played great all day. It seems like we were just pounding, pounding, pounding.

"We just wore them out."

The Eagles finished with 188 yards (49 carries) on the ground and just 11 passing. Meanwhile, Ashland had 175 rushing yards on 28 carries.

"We really took our blueprint from Marist, and just said Ashland is so good at taking the momentum back and if we can keep them off the field and, really, the whole idea was to run the ball right at them and keep them on their heels and keep their offense off the field," Schauffler said. "It you are a defense and we're running right at you and you can't stop them, it's demoralizing."

Ash, spectacular on defense with an interception and several breakups, gave the Eagles (4-4, 4-3 MWL) their 20-0 edge in the third with an electric 77-yard kickoff return.

The Grizzlies (6-2, 5-2 MWL) had a response though, using a Volz 49-yard touchdown run and a 10-yard strike from White to Taylor Humphrey to pull back into the game.

Ashland had not lost since Sept. 9, when Marist beat the team 49-0.

Last year, the Grizzlies defeated Eagle Point 34-14.

White was 9-for-23 with 93 yards and two interceptions; he ran it 10 times for 60 yards. Volz finished with 88 yards on the ground (15 carries) for the Grizzlies, who finished second in the conference and will also have a play-in game in two weeks.

"Nobody put pressure on their QB all year long," Schauffler said. "We saw that on film. We were able to do that and had him make some throws he didn't want to throw."

Kyle Zerger also had an interception for Eagle Point. Bryan Strong and Bryson Baker had the key sacks late for the Eagles.

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email djones@mailtribune.com

Eagle Point's Caleb Ash (12) sprints down the sideline en route to a touchdown on the opening kickoff of the second half during Friday night's game. - Larry Stauth