Coming off its most-lopsided loss of the season, the Ashland High football team hasn’t decided to hit the reset button.
Instead, they’ve chosen to ramp up the competition.
As the Grizzlies head into their trip to rival Eagle Point tonight at 7 p.m., it’s been a week worth of competing in practice, hoping that it sparks what was a disappointing outing against what many believe is the favorite in the Midwestern League in the form of Churchill.
“We talked to our leadership council and our seniors about what do we need, what do they need, what do the players need for this week and moving forward,” Ashland head coach Beau Lehnerz said. “They said we need more competition, it needs to be more competitive in practice. We looked at that as coaches, we adjusted some drills and we are finding ways to have 1-on-1 battles, 3-on-3, team-on-team and compete, so that when it comes to Friday we’ve done a lot of competition before the actual game competition.”
Both Ashland (2-2 overall, 0-1 MWL) and Eagle Point (3-1, 0-1) opened MWL play with losses, meaning somebody will be looking at an 0-2 league record come the end of the night.
With the way the league is now constructed and there being fewer divisional games on the schedule compared to years prior, the onus to get a win in the second week of league play is most certainly there.
“We were talking as coaches about how a win here would be huge looking at the rest of the schedule,” Lehnerz said. “It’s not the end of the season, but it would be a lot harder having to win your last three games. Another thing we talked about as well getting toward the end of the season is health — it may come down to which team has the most guys that are healthy or has their starters healthy toward the end of the season. It’s fun in that it’s the competitive thing they wanted, but it’s stressful as a coach.”
The best news of the week for Ashland came just as it began, with Lehnerz deeming junior running back DaMario Watson good to go for the trip to Eagle Point.
Watson, who rushed for 423 yards and seven touchdowns in Ashland’s first three games of the season, was held out of the Churchill loss due to injury.
It will be a welcome return to the starting lineup for Watson against an Eagle Point defense that was allowing just over just over 14 points per game before last week’s 43-27 loss on the road to South Eugene.
“We’re very similar as far as where we’re sitting — we both have one loss in the league, and knowing that we probably need at least three wins, for would be helpful, but three wins to maybe advance into the playoffs,” Lehnerz said.
When it comes to the Eagles, the Grizzlies’ second-year head coach knows exactly where to start.
“Devin Bradd, Noah Page and their quarterback (Cameron Morgan), they’re their playmakers,” Lehnerz said.
Bradd, a 6-foot, 190-pound sophomore running back, has rushed for just as many touchdowns as Watson and is averaging 7.6 yards per carry as Eagle Point’s No. 1 ball carrier.
Morgan, a threat through the air and on the ground, has thrown seven of his 11 touchdown passes this season to Page, who is averaging nearly 29 yards per reception.
The Grizzlies have shown to be susceptible to big plays on defense, and that’s been a key to the Eagles’ early-season success, according to Lehnerz.
“Their first couple weeks of the season, they had those big plays,” Lehnerz said. “South Eugene was able to get turnovers, and that’s going to be huge for us. South Eugene limited big plays, and they got up early on Eagle Point and maybe got Eagle Point out of their game plan — which I would assume is give Devin Bradd the ball a little more running, fill the box and then throw the ball to Page. They’re going to have wrinkles for us, and their coach (Seth Womack) is probably saying the same thing we are that it was just one week, it was an anomaly and I’m sure we’re going to get their best.”
Lehnerz described the Churchill loss as “disheartening,” one where the Grizzlies expected to challenge the Lancers better despite the stiff competition.
The trip to Eagle Point provides Ashland with the opportunity to get back on the right track once again.
“Going to Eagle Point is as much rivalry game that there is anymore,” Lehnerz said. “We have been competing all week and we’ve done competitions as much as we can to get the kids a spark now so that we don’t have to find someway to do it in the second half or the second quarter. We’re amping up and we know they are, too, so we’re hoping it will be an old-school dog fight.”
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.