ASHLAND – They might not be camped out in front of the supermarket with bells and big red kettles, but the Ashland Arrows have been accepting charitable donations the past three weeks.
And with the holiday season just around the corner, Ashland's playoff opponents have been in a giving mood.
Searching for an explanation to Ashland's improbable run to the state semifinals leads to turnover margin.
In three playoff games, the Arrows have forced five turnovers while committing four. More importantly, of Ashland's five takeaways, four have been converted into touchdowns.
“When the defense forces a turnover, you don't want to waste the opportunity. The defense is fired up and, as an offense, you want to help those guys out by putting points on the board,” Ashland quarterback Taylor Housewright said. “Usually, you end up with a short field. You can't afford to waste field position like that, especially in the playoffs.”
Ashland's opportunistic defense forced four turnovers in a 21-14 win over Avon Lake in the regional semifinals. All three Ashland TDs came after Shoremen turnovers.
Then, in the regional championship game against Sylvania Southview, Ashland defensive back Tyler McFarlin intercepted a pass at the Southview 37-yard line late in the second quarter. Housewright and Co. scored what proved to be the game-winning touchdown less than a minute later.
“The biggest thing for the defense is to get stops,” McFarlin said after Friday's win. “We've been able to make some big plays in key situations.”
Conversely, only one of Ashland's four turnovers have been converted into points.
“We've got a great defense and if we turn the ball over, they aren't phased by it,” Housewright said. “It's their mindset. If we commit a turnover, they just go back to work.”
Another reason for Ashland's postseason success is its ability to avoid penalties. In three playoff games, the Arrows have been flagged 10 times for 67 yards. Ashland's three postseason foes have self-destructed, committing 19 penalties for 152 yards.
“Good teams don't turn the ball over and good teams don't commit penalties,” Housewright said. “We're not making dumb mistakes.”
The evidence is overwhelming:
– In Ashland's playoff opener against Olentangy Liberty, quarterback Ryan Cypret had a big fourth-quarter run negated by a holding call. The Patriots were driving for the potential go-ahead score, but instead turned the ball over on downs.
– Ashland's first scoring drive against Avon Lake was kept alive by a pair of costly 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalties.
– In the regional championship game, Southview committed 10 penalties for 82 yards, while Ashland was flagged twice for 10 yards. The Cougars were called for pass interference twice on Ashland's game-tying drive in the second quarter and three of the Arrows' 18 first downs came courtesy of Southview penalties.
Ashland's state semifinal opponent, Cincinnati Anderson, is coming off an emotional upset of rival Cincinnati Turpin. Housewright knows the Arrows will have their hands full Friday at Dublin Coffman Stadium.
“At this point, there's only four Division II teams left in the state,” he said. “From what we have seen, they are a great team, but we feel like we're playing pretty well, too.”