ASHLAND — Ashland University officials may need to hire an air traffic controller to monitor all the activity over Jack Miller Stadium on Saturday.
Footballs will most certainly fill the night sky when the Eagles host Ohio Dominican.
The Great Midwest Athletic Conference’s top two quarterbacks, Ashland’s Austin Brenner and Ohio Dominican’s Evan Ernst, will go head-to-head in a game that could go a long way in determining a conference championship.
Ashland (2-2) and Ohio Dominican (4-1) are both 1-0 in GMAC play. They are tied atop the GMAC standings with Findlay (3-2) and Hillsdale (2-3).
Ashland was picked to finish fourth in the preseason coaches poll.
“I can’t remember the last time we finished fourth in a league,” AU coach Lee Owens said at the time. “We need to go out and play and let the chips fall.”
AU made its GMAC debut last week, hammering Walsh 35-10. Brenner completed 20 of 27 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for a pair of scores, earning the GMAC Offensive Player of the Week award for a second straight week.
The junior from Copley leads the GMAC in completion percentage (67.3%), passing yards per game (284.3) and efficiency (171.0).
Ernst is the conference leader in passing yards (1,309) and ranks second to Brenner in completion percentage (62.8%) and passing yards per game (261.8). He threw for 236 yards and three touchdowns in ODU’s thrilling 32-30 win over Kentucky Wesleyan last week. That win came on the heels of the Panthers’ 19-16 double overtime win at No. 19 Indianapolis.
“What we’re most concerned about is, they’re never out of it,” Owens said. “In every game they’ve been in, they’ve come back to win or played well at the end of the game to win.”
After opening the season with back-to-back losses to Top 10 teams, Ashland has found its footing offensively. The Eagles lead the GMAC in scoring offense, averaging 38 points a game, and total offense (516 ypg).
In addition to Brenner, AU has gotten a boost from a four-player rotation in the backfield. Starting tailback Gei’vonni Washington has gotten help from Larry Martin, Eli Potts and fullback Austin Williams. Washington leads the way with 288 rushing yards while Martin has 194 yards and three touchdowns and Potts has 110 yards and a score.
“We’re keeping Geo a little fresher,” Owens said. “I just like the physical nature we’re getting with Austin Williams and Eli Potts and Larry Martin. And I think the offensive line is feeding off it, too.”
The running back-by-committee has loosened things up for Brenner and the passing game. Receiver Garrett Turnbaugh has been the beneficiary, hauling in 26 passes for 416 yards and three touchdowns. Washington has been more involved in the passing game with 15 catches for 162 yards and three TDs while receiver Keshun Jones has 10 grabs for 175 yards and two scores.
“Speed’s a good thing on offense,” Owens said. “Geo’s a 4.4 guy. Keshun’s a 4.4 guy. … You spread the field and you spread the field with speed.
“That’s really the kind of things we’ve been able to do best this year, get those guys in space and allow their speed to make plays agains the defense.”
ODU boasts one of the top defenses in the GMAC. The Panthers are second in scoring defense and total defense.
It should make for an entertaining night at Jack Miller Stadium.
“There’s no question we’re the underdog,” Owens said. “They’ve won four in a row against four good opponents. They’re going to play physical and give us their best game. We expect their best game.”