Ashland High's much-maligned defense rose to the occasion Friday night, performing at a level that would have made the late Dave Kitchell proud and perhaps saving the Grizzlies' season in the process.
SPRINGFIELD — Ashland High's much-maligned defense rose to the occasion Friday night, performing at a level that would have made the late Dave Kitchell proud and perhaps saving the Grizzlies' season in the process.
The Grizzlies limited the state's seventh-ranked team to just 99 yards of total offense and quarterback Talon Haggard atoned for two early fumbles by rushing for 137 yards and scoring the winning touchdown as Ashland came from behind to upset Springfield 20-17 in a nonconference game at Silke Field.
"Anytime you go on the road and beat a team ranked in the top 10 in the state, it feels good," Ashland coach Charlie Hall said.
Ashland (3-2), which entered the game allowing 354.8 yards and 28 points per game, limited Springfield to just 99 yards — 11 in the second half — and less than half of its 36.5-point-per-game average. The Grizzlies had been labeled "soft" following back-to-back losses in which they surrendered more than 300 yards rushing. And Kitchell, the team's long-time defensive coordinator, was anything but soft.
With the final rushing statistics adjusted to include five quarterback sacks, Ashland allowed just 24 yards on 28 carries.
"I've got to tip my hat to our defense," Hall said. "They've been embarrased the last couple of weeks. (Defensive coordinator) Tito Soriano came up with a great game plan and the kids made it work."
The Grizzlies held the high-powered and previously undefeated Millers (4-1) to just two first downs in the second half. Springfield had four three-and-outs and a fumble in its six second-half possessions. Springfield star running back Dusty Jarvis ran for 51 yards on 10 carries in the first half, but did not play in the second half.
"Once we got Jarvis out of the game, that was big," Hall said.
Issa Shahin shifted from his linebacker spot back to defensive line and led the defensive charge with three sacks and 7 1/2 tackles.
Trailing 17-12 early in the fourth quarter, Haggard put the Ashland offense on his back and carried it to victory.
Springfield had done a fine job of limiting Haggard's running lanes for most of the game. But the senior broke lose for runs of 28 and 17 yards on an eight-play drive that also included a key 21-yard pass to Nicholas Hall. Haggard capped the drive with a 1-yard sneak and two-point conversion pass that gave Ashland a 20-17 lead with 7:23 to play.
"When push comes to shove and we need a play, he can make it," Hall said. "Sometimes I wish he'd listen to the coaches more often, but right now, I love his athletic ability."
From there, it was up to the defense. A team that allowed more than 300 yards on the ground in each of its last two games didn't give as much as a single first down in six plays, with Shahin recording three sacks.
Ashland, which had made nearly every trick play in its playbook work in a narrow loss the previous week, was burned on Friday. Leading 12-10 midway through the third quarter but backed up to its own 29-yard line, backup quarterback Jake Scarminach tried to hit Haggard with a pass. But Haggard slipped and Brent Hexby intercepted the pass and temporarily changed the momentum of the game.
Four plays later, Zachary Ennis hauled in a 20-yard pass from Jake Taylor that gave Springfield a 17-12 lead with 24 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Before winning the game with his legs, Haggard had kept the Grizzlies within striking distance with his arm, throwing a couple of touchdown passes — a 7-yarder to Charlie Sebrell and a 15-yarder to Garrett Tygerson. He finished 8 of 18 for 136 yards passing. He has now thrown for nine scores and run for nine in five games this season.
Leading 6-3, Ashland missed a golden opportunity with the ball inside the Springfield 30. Haggard had trouble with the handoff to Lewis Sebrell and Springfield's Marshall Curry recovered Haggard's second fumble of the night at the Ashland 24-yard line.
From there, Taylor marched the team 73 yards in eight plays and scored from a yard out to give Springfield a 10-6 halftime lead.
After an exchange of punts and fumbles to start the third quarter, Haggard took the Grizzlies 72 yards, highlighted by a Charlie Sebrell catch. From the Springfield 15, Haggard scrambled and found Tygerson in the back of the end zone to reclaim the lead at 12-10.
Ashland hosts Bend in its final non-conference game next Friday.
Ashland 0 6 6 8 — 20
Springfield 3 7 7 0 — 17
First downs 18 8
Rushing yards 42-198 28-24
Passing yards 147 75
Total yards 345 99
Return yards 39 158
Punts/avg. yards 4-37.0 6-36.7
Penalties-yards 8-65 5-50
Fumbles-fumbles lost 3-2 2-1
Time of possession 28:42 19:18
RUSHING — Ashland: Haggard 24-137, L. Sebrell 11-39, Shahin 6-26,Scarminach 1-(-4). Springfield: Jarvis 10-51, Travess 4-6, Navarro 1-0, Morten 1-(-5), Taylor 12-(-28).
PASSING — Ashland: Haggard 9-22-0 147, Scarminach 0-1-1 0. Springfield: Taylor 6-14-0 70, Bates 1-1-0 5.
RECEIVING — Ashland: Tygerson 3-56, C. Sebrell 2-51, L. Sebrell 2-7, Krant 1-12, Hall 1-21. Springfield: Ennis 5-61, Navarro 1-9, Dudley 1-5.