ASHLAND — On the night Ashland defensive coordinator Tim Rose was honored for 60 years of coaching, linebacker Jackson Myers gave him a gift he won’t soon forget.
Myers returned an interception for a touchdown with less than a minute remaining in the first half, sparking Ashland University’s second-half romp in a 38-14 win over Hillsdale on Saturday at Jack Miller Stadium.
The ageless Rose, who has spent the past 15 years at Ashland, was recognized at halftime for six decades of coaching and again during a postgame reception inside AU’s football facility.
Myers made sure the gathering was a festive one, snatching a tipped pass intended for tailback Michael Herzog and rumbling 34 yards to break a 7-7 tie with just 41 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
“They ran a screen and I was lucky that Herzog tipped it. It landed right in my hands,” said Myers, who had five tackles and one of AU’s seven sacks. “At that point in the game it was really big just because it was a tie ballgame and we were struggling offensively and defensively at that point in time.”
The Eagles (1-2, 1-0 Great Midwest Athletic Conference) carried the momentum of Myers’ pick-six into the second half. Herzog fumbled the second half kickoff and AU recovered at the Hillsdale 27.
The short-field drive stalled and the Eagles settled for a 32-yard A.J. Rhodes field goal and a 17-7 lead.
Ashland extended its advantage to 24-7 later in the third when wideout Dezmin Lyburtus hauled in a 25-yard touchdown pass from Trevor Bycznski.
“Getting this first win was big everybody’s confidence,” said Lyburtus, who caught eight passes for 106 yards. “To finally get that first win just shows that we can compete with anybody.”
Ashland’s lead ballooned to 31-7 early in the fourth when Bycznski hooked up with Jamari Croom on a 17-yard scoring strike. Tailback Larry Martin capped it four minutes later when he scored on a 4-yard run to make it 38-7.
Martin rushed for 56 yards on 13 carries and scored a pair of touchdowns. Gei’vonni Washington and Patrick Blubaugh each rushed for 21 yards.
Bycznski completed 22-of-32 passes for 226 yards and a pair of TDs. Croom had five catches for 63 yards.
Mason Graney led the defense with seven tackles and a sack. Chris Julian and Deeb Alawan each had two sacks.
“As a defense we just hone in on coach Rose and whatever he preaches to us,” Alawan said. “We have that relentless pursuit to the ball. That’s a big thing for us.”
Herzog led Hillsdale (0-3, 0-1) with 72 rushing yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Quarterback Garrit Aissen completed 11-of-22 passes for 160 yards, but was sacked seven times.
Ashland reclaimed the Traveling Trophy with the victory. Hillsdale took possession of the trophy and spoiled AU’s perfect season last year.
“After the loss to Ferris I challenged them with two different things,” AU coach Doug Geiser said. “I said, ‘No. 1, you’re going to respect the rivalry.’ We’ve been talking all week about the trophy and what this rivalry means and the kids listened.
“The other thing I challenged them to do was stick together. We still have all our goals in front of us. … We cannot accomplish our goals unless we stick together.”