EAGLE POINT — As Ashland football players awaited a final result from the Crater-Klamath Union game, coach Charlie Hall appeared hesitant as to what to proclaim in his post-game speech.
Grizzly players were confused, disappointed, but still ready for some good news that might turn their nights around after a 28-20 loss to Eagle Point.
Then the announcement was made, the team breathed a collective sigh of relief, and Hall even managed half a grin — no doubt excited to add the most successful loss in school history to his resume.
Ashland (2-2 Southern Sky Conference, 4-6 overall) needed a Crater win — coupled with their loss that successfully didn't exceed eight points — to force a three-way tie in second place with Klamath Union and Eagle Point and escape with a tiebreaker that landed the Grizzlies the third and final playoff spot in the SSC.
KU took Crater to overtime, but the Comets escaped with a win that assured them an outright conference championship and gave the Grizzlies a home playoff date with Wilsonville next Friday.
"We get a second chance, and that doesn't happen very often," Hall said. "We'll see what we can do with it, but hopefully it wakes us up and we realize what we can do if we play with urgency all the time."
Up 22-20 with the ball at Ashland's 33-yard line and 14 seconds remaining, Eagle Point executed a double-reverse pass that found receiver Aaron Foster who bobbled the ball before bringing it in for a touchdown.
Up 28-20, the Eagles needed an extra point to extend the deficit to nine and effectively knock Ashland out of the playoff picture completely. But junior Christian Morrison was able to find a path through the offensive line and dive on the attempt, which eventually proved to be the savior of Ashland's season.
If the Grizzlies would have lost by nine, Eagle Point would have outscored them by one in the Azzi point system (put in place this year to decide tiebreakers in the SSC), which is based on the margin of victories in games between the teams tied with each other. As it was, the Grizzlies and Eagles tied, which forced a second tiebreaker based on points allowed against the teams in question.
Advantage Ashland, and now it's on to the playoffs and a chance to salvage, or at least straighten out, a rollercoaster of a season.
The Grizzlies appeared to have put the tiebreaker in their favor on the previous drive before it was spoiled by the double-reverse pass.
Down eight with under two minutes remaining, quarterback Jake Scarminach took the Grizzlies on a drive that seemed almost heroic after struggling to develop any kind of rhythm or chemistry with his receivers all night.
The junior connected with senior receiver Mason Costantino four times — the only four successful plays of the drive — on a slant, out, receiver screen, and finally a fade pass that hit the 6-foot-2 target in the end zone to cap a 65-yard drive.
The Grizzlies failed to tie the game on a two-point conversion attempt the next play.
"We seem to play with so much more urgency late in the game, which is disappointing because it'd be nice to see what we can do if we played like that all the time," Costantino said. "The first half was just so unemotional; they wanted the game more."
Scarminach finished the game 12-for-23 with a pair of touchdowns and interceptions, and a lateral pass gone wrong that resulted in a fumble and an eventual Eagles' touchdown in the first half.
Three first-half turnovers by Ashland opened the door for Eagle Point to score three unanswered touchdowns and go into halftime with a 22-6 edge.
"It's a weird feeling right now, because both teams feel like they lost but each of us also got a win," Costantino said. "Maybe tomorrow it will set in more that we get to keep playing, but it's just a weird feeling right now. We'll take it, though."
Austin Marlia led Eagle Point (2-2) with 130 rushing yards on 18 attempts, while Steven Josephson added 77 yards on the ground and two touchdowns.
Costantino led the game with 120 yards on nine receptions, while Nicholas Hall also added a receiving touchdown. Clinton Murphy had a game-high 12 tackles and an interception for the Grizzlies.