ASHLAND — It has all the makings of a trap game, but Ashland coach Lee Owens isn’t especially concerned about a letdown.
His veteran Eagles understand what awaits them — both this weekend and beyond.
Sixth-ranked AU heads to Michigan on Saturday for a Great Midwest Athletic Conference showdown against the Hillsdale Chargers. Kickoff at Muddy Waters Stadium is 1 p.m.
Ashland (7-0, 5-0) sits alone atop the GMAC standings and has positioned itself for a playoff berth. The first super regional rankings were released earlier this week and AU is one of 10 teams under consideration for seven available playoff spots in Super Region One.
The Eagles successfully navigated what most Division II analysts believed were the most dangerous stretches on the schedule. AU opened the season with emotional wins over nationally-ranked Notre Dame and GMAC preseason favorite Findlay. The past two weeks saw AU handle GMAC contenders Ohio Dominican and Tiffin.
Hillsdale (4-4, 3-3) has lost three of its last four, including last week’s 41-20 setback against Findlay. The Chargers trail AU by three games in the loss column in the GMAC standings.
Still, Owens knows veteran Hillsdale coach Keith Otterbein will have his team ready in the battle for the Traveling Trophy.
“There can’t be a letdown,” Owens said. “It’s not going to get easier. It’s going to get harder the closer you get to the end of the season.
“To get a high regional ranking, we’ve got to win out. To win the conference, we’ve got to win out.”
Ashland ranks first in the nine-team GMAC in virtually every meaningful statistical category. The Eagles are first in scoring offense (32.3 points per game), scoring defense (10.7 ppg), total offense (413.6 yards per game) and total defense (222.1 ypg). AU ranks sixth nationally in total defense and fifth in scoring defense.
Linebacker Michael Ayers continues to spearhead AU’s defense. The NFL prospect has 48 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. Defensive end Deeb Alawan is tied for the GMAC lead with six sacks, while cornerback Devin Prude and safety Jourdan Swett each have two interceptions.
Offensively, running back Larry Martin ranks fourth in the GMAC with 585 rushing yards, while Gei’vonni Washington is fifth with 420 yards despite missing most of last week’s win over Tiffin with an injury.
For Hillsdale, running back Michael Herzog leads the conference in rushing with 733 yards. Receiver Isaac TeSlaa has a conference-best 915 yards and 11 touchdowns on 48 catches.
Hillsdale linebacker Kyle Kudla leads the GMAC with 73 tackles. Defensive back Vince Francescone has 53 stops.
A win Saturday would bring AU one step closer to a GMAC title and a postseason bid.
“We’ve got to keep going. We’ve got to look to the future,” AU defensive tackle Kristian Gehrisch said after last week’s win. “It’s better to be 8-0 than 7-0.”
“Championship teams understand it’s going to be hard and they handle that well,” Owens said. “I challenged our guys to do that. If they do that, there won’t be a letdown. We’ll be ready to play Saturday at Hillsdale.”