Ashland's offense was a little out of sync, but the defense and special teams more than picked up the slack as the Grizzlies scored 24 points in the third quarter to pull away for a 51-21 win over Churchill in Midwestern League football action Friday in Eugene.
Shashi Penn scored on a 38-yard punt return, Chance Swenson added a 38-yard interception return and Ashland picked off Churchill quarterback Justin Kearney three times, setting up huge clash between MWL unbeatens Ashland (4-0, 2-0 MWL) and Springfield (3-1, 2-0) next Friday in Ashland.
"That's going to be good," Ashland head coach Charlie Hall said of facing Springfield, which steamrolled Eagle Point 48-0 Friday.
The Grizzlies led 14-7 in the final seconds of the first half when Hall decided to pull the field goal unit off the field and attempt a Hail Mary rather than a 50-yard boot. It proved to be a good move when Matt Hedges hauled in a 33-yard touchdown pass from Danial White. Hedges' diving catch on third and 29 made up for his drop in the end zone only moments earlier.
The Grizzlies quickly pulled away in the second half. Hedges nailed a 25-yard field goal to extend the lead to 17 points, and on Churchill's next possession Kearney's pass to Michael Monroy was picked off by Swenson, a sophomore, who's big return gave Ashland a 31-7 lead.
"(Swenson's) a good player, up and coming, young, and he was just in the right place at the right time," Hall said. "That was really exciting."
White's 10-yard TD pass to Penn, followed quickly by a 28-yard touchdown run by Mason Dow upped the Grizzlies' advantage to 45-7.
White completed 8 of 19 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns, and Penn had 41 yards receiving and another 103 yards on kickoff and punt returns. Ryne Robitz led the Grizzlies on the ground with 83 yards rushing.
Mason Montgomery had seven tackles and an interception, and Joe Hearn seven tackles and two sacks to lead a Grizz defense that held Churchill to 321 yards of total offense.
"Our defense set us up in the second half," Hall said.
At Rocklin, Calif., Toas Cadarette scored eight goals to go with four steals on the day for Ashland, which beat Hoover 11-7 before losing by the same score to Ponderosa on the first day of the 24-team Wood Creek Classic.
Cadarette had five goals, two steals and an assist in the Grizzlies' tourney-opening win. He received plenty of help from teammates Cole Harding (two goals, two assists), Hoku Eggertsen (three assists, three steals, one goal) and goalie Ethan Croyle (four blocks).
Against Ponderosa, Ashland (2-1) was once again led by Cadarette, who scored three goals. Vincent Wright added seven blocks between the pipes for the Grizzlies, who will play at least two more matches today before heading home.