ASHLAND EAGLES (8-2 overall, 8-2 GLIAC)

2015 Ashland Preview (by Tony Nicolette, GLIAC contributor)

On the heels of six straight winning seasons and a GLIAC Title in 2012, the Ashland Eagles struggled to a 5-5 mark in 2013.  With no clear-cut starter at QB, there was a certain amount of mystery surrounding the club as they entered the 2014 season.  But Coach Lee Owens and his staff know that grinding things out in the GLIAC is part of the gig, and any adversity endured usually makes you stronger when you come out on the other side.  Case in point:  Ashland rebounded with an 8-2 campaign last year, narrowly missing a shot at the playoffs with their season-ending loss at Michigan Tech.

Finding stability at the QB position always helps post a winning record, but hanging your hat on a stingy defense doesn’t hurt either…plus, playing tough D can give a team time to figure things out under center.  The Eagles did that in a big way a year ago, yielding a league-low 18.2 points per game.  The Ashland defense sported an impressive mid-season stretch of five consecutive tilts where they allowed 14 points or less, easing the learning curve for freshman QB Travis Tarnowski.

Tarnowski returns as the starter in 2015, and he’ll no doubt supply the stability mentioned earlier.  His experience will be helpful, as he will be asked to pilot his offense around some challenges…particularly the retooling of several of the skill positions.  Ashland’s all-time leading rusher Anthony Taylor has departed, as has last year’s top pass-catcher Dan Piko.  Vance Settlemire was impressive as Taylor’s understudy last season, and he may be required to shoulder a significant share of the load as Tarnowski doesn’t have any ends or wide-outs returning that caught more than nine balls a year ago.

With that in mind, one could surmise that this campaign might also be one that sees Ashland “leaning on its D” for a while.  Six starters are back to help, with the leadership role likely falling to All-GLIAC DE Chase Hoobler.  Hoobler won’t be asked to do things alone, however, as he has fellow seniors Donzale Ashley and James Ester heading up the secondary.  And while leading tackler Cody Bloom isn’t around any longer, junior LB Brandon Gency looks to take over in his stead.

Ashland’s schedule sets up quite favorably this fall.  The slate is dotted with only three clubs who posted winning records a year ago, and all three of those games will be at Jack Miller Stadium.  Ashland will also enjoy three of their final four contests at home, kicked off by a week seven tussle with Hillsdale for the Traveling Trophy.

While the Eagles will have to replace an “all-time” caliber leader on each side of the ball, having an experienced starter at QB in Tarnowski should bode well for them.  In recent years, Ashland has played a more physical style than the high-flying aerial attacks of a few seasons ago.  In this league, that appears to be suiting them just fine.