There are precious few obstacles remaining between sixth-ranked Ashland University and its first perfect season since 1972.
The biggest hurdle left on the schedule invades AU’s Jack Miller Stadium on Saturday.
Findlay brings a 5-2 record to town for a showdown between the top two teams in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference South Division standings. The Oilers are two game behind the Eagles (8-0, 7-0) with three games to play.
“They’re a really good football team,” AU coach Lee Owens said. “I think it’s the best Findlay team we’ve seen. They beat a playoff team (Saginaw Valley State) on the road. That’s not by accident.”
The Eagles visited Canton last week and throttled Malone 31-7. Tailback Anthony Taylor rushed for a career-high 212 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries as the Eagles piled up a season-best 627 yards of total offense.
Taylor and fellow sophomore tailback Jordan McCune, a graduate of nearby Clear Fork High School, have split carries all season. Taylor has 739 yards on 128 carries while McCune, who lead AU in rushing as a freshman last fall, has 546 yards on 117 carries.
“We’re excited about both backs,” Owens said. “We need both. Both are unselfish. They don’t complain about how much they get the ball or don’t get the ball. We’re keeping them healthy, keeping them fresh.”
The relatively light workload for the backs could pay off down the road. When the first NCAA Super Region rankings were released earlier this week, AU was second in Super Region 4. A playoff berth, AU’s first since 2008 and fifth in program history, is a good possibility.
With Ashland High School graduate Taylor Housewright pulling the trigger, the Eagles could be in for a memorable postseason run. Dating to last season, Housewright has thrown 347 consecutive passes without an interception. He completed 19 of 30 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns last week. He ranks seventh in the nation in pass efficiency and 17th in total offense.
Receiver Anthony Capasso is second in the GLIAC with 49 catches and is averaging more than 89 receiving yards a game.
AU’s defense has held up its end of the bargain, too. The Eagles rank first in the 16-team GLIAC in scoring defense, total defense and pass efficiency defense. Linebacker Cody Bloom leads the team with 72 tackles. Defensive tackle Jamie Meder has 20 of his 41 stops in the past three weeks. The two-time GLIAC first-team pick is adjusting to life without Jeris Pendleton, who plays for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“I just tried to work harder in the summer,” Meder said. “We had some workout that were grueling.”
All that hard work will be put to the test Saturday. Findlay running back Monterae Williams became the school’s career rushing leader last week when he torched Lake Erie for 268 yards and five touchdowns.
“He reads his blocks real well,” Owens said. “He accelerates. He’s tough. He’s been beat up when we’ve seen him in the past. He’s healthy this time.
“We have to defend against what we consider one of the best backs in the game.”
Findlay quarterback Clay Belton has completed 140 of 235 passes for 1,822 yards and 12 TDs. He ranks fourth in the GLIAC in passing yards per game (261.0).
“Their quarterback is as good as we’ve seen,” Owens said. “Their tailback is as good as we’ve seen. Their scheme is as difficult as we’ve gone against. It will be a real challenge.
“We know the level of emotion the rivalry game will be played at.”