Ashland High's offense did almost anything it wanted to and its defense put together a dominant first half as the Grizzlies manhandled Corvallis 47-7 on Friday at Walter A. Phillips Field in a Class 5A state play-in game that may prove costly for Ashland.
Connor Kaegi threw three touchdown passes in the first 15 minutes, including two to Jon Volz, and the Grizzlies held the Spartans to 166 yards of total offense to pick up their fifth win in a row and earn a round of 16 road game next Friday. Ashland's next opponent was yet to be determined at press time.
Usually, a resounding home win filled with big plays and monster hits is enough to send a team soaring into its next practice, but the Grizzlies' celebration was dampened somewhat by an ejection that, unless overturned, will cost them one of their best players and most important senior leaders in next week's game.
The play in question occurred as Ashland (7-3) was nursing a 40-0 lead with less than 15 seconds to go in the first half. Facing a third-and-16 at the Corvallis 40, Spartans' quarterback Matherin Langley scrambled out of the pocket and toward the Corvallis sideline, where he was leveled by Volz. The late hit sent Langley tumbling past a line of teammates and into a barrier that separates fans from the field with a loud thud. Several fans on the Corvallis side jumped over the divider onto the field, but the referees quickly restored order, penalizing Ashland 15 yards and tossing Volz from the game.
By OSAA rule, Volz, a senior running back/defensive back who entered the game as Ashland's leader in rushing yards and interceptions (3), must also sit out next week's playoff game.
Ashland head coach Charlie Hall asked the referees for an explanation at halftime.
"They said that the hit was at least two yards or more out of bounds, and there was a push that accompanied the hit and maybe a little bit of posturing after that," Hall said. "Having not seen it, it's hard for me to argue with the two who saw it. And I said, 'You know what, I think that's pretty unprecedented. It's a late hit, he should just get a personal foul. We pulled him out of the game, we're going to discipline him ourselves.' And he said, 'No, that's an ejection right there.'"
Volz was having a stellar game up until that point, having already accumulated 168 yards of total offense — 85 receiving, 83 rushing — including spectacular touchdown receptions of 25 yards and 57 yards. His first score came off a short dump from Kaegi and gave the Grizzlies a 16-0 lead with 1:03 to go in the first quarter, and his second, which came off a perfectly executed screen pass, featured some fancy footwork and gave Ashland a 23-0 lead with 9:33 to go in the second quarter.
Kaegi added a 15-yard touchdown pass to RJ Atteberry to cap the Grizzlies' first drive only three minutes into the game, Matt Hedges hit two field goals and Atteberry also returned an interception 40 yards for a score just before halftime.
Kaegi completed 11 of 17 passes for 177 yards. His counterpart, Langley, completed 4 of 10 passes for 21 yards and an interception.
Ashland's defense continued a sensational run that has anchored the Grizzlies' late-season surge, holding Corvallis (3-7) to 11 first downs and 60 passing yards — mostly in the second half, after the game was well in hand — and forcing four turnovers.
Two of those turnovers were fumbles that were recovered in Corvallis territory after the Grizzlies' pressure up front led to option pitches that went awry.
"We had everyone just put in the right spots at the right time," Ashland junior linebacker Mason Montgomery said. "We had the right adjustments to different formations. They're a good team, but we knew as long as we executed we could have a result like we did tonight."
"It was just making the read, because you just see what the coach tells you is going to be there and everything works out great," added Ashland junior linebacker Ashur Beasley, who led the Grizzlies with six tackles.
Ashland quickly added to its lead in the second half, stuffing Corvallis on its first possession then driving 40 yards on two plays, with Austin Chandler scoring on a 16-yard touchdown burst. Hedges' PAT increased the Grizzlies' lead to 47-0, and the game was played with a running clock the rest of the way, as per OSAA rules concerning a lead of 45 points or more.
"We got off to a good start, but it was bittersweet," Hall said, referring to the suspension.
Ashland has now outscored its last five opponents 240-43.
Next, the Grizzlies will probably need another outstanding effort to pull off what would be considered an upset on the road.
After the win, Hall was anticipating a game against West Albany (8-1).
"We went up to (West Albany) three years ago and really embarrassed ourselves," Hall said, "so I'm just looking for us to go back up there much like we did last year at Sherwood last year and get a little Grizzly redemption and get after them and let them know that we can play some football down here."