Panthers Knock Ashland Off First Place Perch, 20-17

Senior kicker Chris Vortkamp
Senior kicker Chris Vortkamp

ASHLAND, Ohio – Ohio Dominican's football team guaranteed its second season in Division II and GLIAC play would be a winning one as the Panthers went on the road to knock off first place Ashland 20-17 Saturday afternoon at Jack Miller Stadium.

Ohio Dominican's third-straight win moved ODU to 6-4 (5-4 GLIAC), assuring the Panthers of their fifth winning season in just the eighth year of the program. Ashland (6-4, 6-3 GLIAC), meanwhile, dropped out of its tie for the GLIAC lead and had entered the game in the sixth and final playoff spot in Super Region Three.

The Eagles took the opening kickoff of the second half and went on a 10-play, 66-yard drive, culminating in a 25-yard touchdown pass to grab a 17-10 lead. ODU answered with a lengthy drive of its own, converting four third downs on a 15-play, 80-yard drive that took up over six minutes. Facing second-and-goal from the five, sophomore Bylal Humphrey (Bexley, Ohio) slipped out of the backfield and senior Jeremy Fudge (Eaton, Ohio) lofted a pass over two rushers to him for the touchdown, the first of Humphrey's career, to tie the game at 17 at the 3:50 mark in the third.

The Panther defense then stuffed Ashland on third-and-one and fourth-and-inches from the ODU 30, and the offense quickly moved into Eagle territory. ODU picked up four first downs and reached the Eagle 15 before stalling, but senior Chris Vortkamp (Cincinnati, Ohio) drilled a 33-yard field goal to give the Panthers their first lead, 20-17, with 8:55 to play.

Ashland converted one first down but was forced to punt with 6:03 left, and the Panthers would not let the host Eagles get the football back. Fudge kept it himself for eight yards to convert another third down, and after Ashland exhausted all of its timeouts, senior Mike Noffsinger (West Branch, Mich.) ran a sweep off the right side on third-and-two to pick up the first down with 1:28 left, allowing ODU to run out the clock.

The Panthers ran 42 plays in the second half to Ashland's 23 and controlled the ball for over 12 minutes in the fourth quarter.

Ashland scored the game's first points as a muffed field goal attempt turned into a big play for the Eagles. After bobbling the hold, AU quarterback Taylor Housewright picked it up, rolled right, broke a tackle and lofted a pass downfield that turned into a 24-yard gain to the ODU nine. Three plays later, Jordan McCune scored from the two to make it 7-0 Eagles with 5:52 left in the first.

ODU, which had a drive into Eagle territory in the first quarter stopped at the 36, finally cracked the score column on a school-record long 47-yard field goal by Vortkamp with 8:57 left in the second. Noffsinger had a 12-yard run, with a 15-yard face mask tacked on to the end, to set it up.

After Ashland answered with its own field goal, ODU took over on its own 40 with 1:50 left in the half. Noffsinger picked up a key first down on third-and-two to the Eagle 32, and facing third-and-four, Fudge lofted a pass into the front corner of the end zone for senior wide receiver Tyler Purcell (Franklin, Ohio), who leapt over a defender to make the catch. It was a 26-yard pass and the seventh reception of the half for Purcell, knotting the game at 10 with 28 seconds left.

A long kickoff return gave AU a chance to score before halftime, but freshman Sydney Omameh (Westerville, Ohio) got a hand on the field goal attempt as time expired to keep the game tied at the break.

Ashland had rushed for at least 135 yards in every game this year, but the Panthers held them to 75 yards on 27 carries and just 274 yards of total offense. ODU tallied 344 yards and ran for 152 yards against the GLIAC's second-best rush defense.

Freshman Cody Culbertson (Galloway, Ohio) had a team-best 11 tackles, while Justin Bell (Groveport, Ohio) had nine tackles and three pass break ups. James Dews (Upper Marlboro, Md.) had six tackles, including two for a loss of 13 yards, and Jeff White (Gahanna, Ohio) also had six stops.

There were plenty of offensive superlatives, as Fudge completed a career-high 25 passes for 192 yards and two scores. Purcell was the recipient of 12 of those tosses, which was a career-high for him and tied for the third-most receptions in a game in school history, and tallied 103 yards for his third game over the century mark.

Noffsinger, meanwhile, broke his own school-record with 31 rushing attempts, grinding out 104 yards for his eighth 100-yard rushing game of the season. Fudge chipped in with 50 yards on the ground, and senior Brandon Robinson (Eaton, Ohio) had five catches for 37 yards.

ODU handed Ashland its first loss at home this season and just its second in the past two years.

Ohio Dominican closes its regular season at noon Saturday in Panther Field against Indianapolis.

Contact: Scott Miles