Danial White rushed for 122 yards, including the 49-yard game-clinching touchdown, as fourth-ranked Ashland built a 21-point lead before fending off fifth-ranked Springfield for a 34-28 Midwestern League victory Friday at Walter A. Phillips Field.
The Grizzlies were in total control after White's 13-yard keeper gave them a 28-7 lead on the second play of the fourth quarter. It was the second of three TD runs for White, who also completed 12 of 23 passes for 94 yards and another score.
But the resilient Millers (3-2, 2-1 MWL) pushed back down the stretch, scoring two touchdowns in less than five minutes to cut the deficit to 28-21 with 2:49 to go.
After Ashland (5-0, 3-0 MWL) recovered Springfield's onside kick, the Grizzlies faced a third-and-six at midfield with just under two minutes to go.
That's when Ashland running backs and cornerbacks coach Antione Perry turned to head coach Charlie Hall in the Ashland press box and said, "We need to get in a passing formation — we gotta show pass, we gotta roll (White) out and just give him the option to run the ball."
White, operating out of the shotgun formation, rolled out right initially before cutting back left into the open field. He passed the first-down marker without being touched then faked out Springfield cornerback Kyle Shill at the 30 before outrunning everybody else the rest of the way.
"It wasn't really drawn in the dirt, but it was a base play that we do and we said just don't throw it," Hall said. "They committed to the blitz and Mason (Montgomery) was the lead blocker and he got a key block, and Danial did the rest of it. It was just awesome. Obviously that's gotta be our thing. When we don't have the physical tools like some of those guys do, our speed has got to give us a chance to be successful."
White's big play, which gave Ashland a 34-21 lead, proved to be crucial moments later, when Springfield used a little razzle-dazzle to score on its next play from scrimmage. Trever Watson threw an 8-yard pass to Braydon Haas, who lateraled to Taylor Travess, who darted down the sideline untouched before diving into the end zone to get the Millers back within six points.
Ashland held on, though, clinching the game after Carter Glick landed on the ensuing onside kick, Springfield's third unsuccessful onside attempt in the last seven minutes.
The win allowed Ashland to move into sole possession of first place in the Midwestern standings with three league games left on its schedule. The Grizzlies, who beat conference favorite Marist two weeks ago, are seeking their first-ever MWL championship.
"It's awesome," Hall said. "It's been a great run, it's been a great journey for these kids."
Led by White and sophomore running back Mason Dow, who ran for 51 yards in place of injured starter Ryne Robitz, the Grizzlies gained 183 of their 277 yards on the ground. Ashland's defense did its job, too, holding the potent Millers to 125 yards in the first half before the visitors went off late to finish with 355.
"We had some high-end plays and we had some low-end plays, and we needed to be more consistent in the middle there," Springfield coach Dave Heuberger said. "Part of that is a credit to Ashland, defensively, what they do, and offensively what they do."
Travess caught eight passes for 132 yards and Ah-Sam Nicholas five for 92 yards to lead Springfield.
Watson, bottled up most of the day, completed 19 of 37 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for 26 yards and two scores.
Ashland played without three starters — Robitz, left tackle Seth Cowan and defensive end Joseph Hearn.
"We kind of took on that next man up mentality," Hall said. "Great team win. They made it a little close and interesting at the end there, but I'm just really proud of our team and our program."