The Ashland High football team wanted to send its seven-player senior class out on a winning note — and that’s exactly what the Grizzlies did.
Following the lead of big first-half performances from quarterback Rieger Sayre and running back DaMario Watson while also getting arguably its best game on defense of the year, Ashland closed out the 2018 season with an impressive19-0 win over Redmond on Friday night at Walter A. Phillips Field.
With the victory, Ashland finished the 2018 campaign with a 4-5 record, doubling its win total from a year ago in the process.
Three of the Grizzlies’ four wins came against teams from the Midwestern League’s North Division.
And in this new crossover format that has like-for-like finishers in the MWL playing one another to close out the regular season, Ashland was able to get one last crack at the north — and the Grizzlies took advantage of it.
Ashland needed less than two minutes to get on the scoreboard, as Nolan Rinefort hit the first of his two short field goals in the game to put the Grizzlies ahead 3-0.
After a Redmond (2-7 overall) drive resulted in no points despite taking over five minutes off the clock, Sayre was able to connect with his top wideout, junior Gabe Ekwall, on a 75-yard bomb down the Ashland sideline to give the Grizzlies a 10-0 lead.
“That’s what we’ve been wanting all year,” Ashland head coach Beau Lehnerz said. “What’s nice is that we’re going to have that combination back next year. It was just Rieger 1-2-3 and throw and Gabe getting behind the defense. That’s the capability we’re going to have and now we need to make it a consistent thing next year.”
Ashland found the end zone again with 4:45 to go before halftime, as Watson capped off his team’s longest drive of the night with a 6-yard run right up the middle to make it 16-0.
Of the 95 yards that the Grizzlies chewed up over the span of the 10-play drive, Watson had 85 of them, hitting the century mark before halftime as a result. Watson — who also caught three passes for 31 yards — finished the game with 144 yards on 17 carries, averaging 8.5 yards per rushing attempt.
In all four of Ashland’s wins this season, Watson rushed for at least 100 yards.
Ashland out-gained Redmond 421-317, splitting its total yardage figure nearly right down the middle in the process.
Redmond might have had a huge edge in time of possession — 33 minutes to Ashland’s 14:21 — but the Grizzlies were able to keep the Panthers from finding the end zone when they were in the red zone.
Led by Watson, the Grizzlies rushed for 209 yards in the game while Sayre threw for 212 yards, averaging nearly 27 yards a completion.
Ekwall caught a pair of passes for 106 yards, while Nathan Carter had two receptions for 76 yards.
Isaac Evans, one of the Grizzlies’ seven seniors playing their final game at Walter A. Phillips Field and his team’s biggest defensive contributors as the season went on, finished with a season-high 17 tackles. Hayden Ellis contributed 10 tackles, while Rinefort had nine and Finneas Hayes had eight.
“Our seniors are a special group,” Lehnerz said. “Isaac is a kid that’s full of grit, full of desire and all the intangible things you look for. His number was called at linebacker and he made some nice plays. He put in his time, was about to hang it up last year, but the brotherhood we had this year, he’s always said this year’s team felt so tight and that made it fun for him.”
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.