Grand Valley State at Ashland


Records: Grand Valley State 7-2, 6-1 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference; Ashland 8-1, 7-0 GLIAC

Last meeting: Grand Valley State won 45-28 in the 2015 Division II playoffs in Ashland. Grand Valley State leads series 17-4.

Any banquet speaker wanting to hold the attention of an audience should be informative and witty and have crisp timing, and coach Lee Owens had none of that standing behind the microphone at the Ashland team banquet last year.

“I was prepared to congratulate our guys for getting into the playoffs, but the rankings changed and I said, ‘Holy smoke, we’re not going to make it,’ ” Owens said. “That was hard to swallow. We saw Ferris State play on national television, and we had beaten them. I don’t think the scars have healed.”

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Ashland won nine of 11 games and was ranked 19th nationally in Division II, but it wound up being the only team in the American Football Coaches Association top 25 not to make the playoffs.

Defensive end James Prater, a junior from DeSales, used strong words to describe his feelings.

“We definitely felt like we were cheated out of a playoff spot,” he said. “We’ve come back with some vengeance. We have a chip on our shoulder not to be left out again. We can’t let up. We have to finish strong. We didn’t do that last year. We want to win the conference outright.”

The Eagles sit in first place in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and have beaten second-place Ferris State, but the biggest challenge looms with Grand Valley State coming in.

Grand Valley has been a national power since current Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly was leading it to the first of its four national championships in 2002 and ’03.

Ashland and Grand Valley have played three times in the last six seasons. The Eagles won regular season games 37-14 in 2014 and 45-31 in 2015, but lost to the Lakers 45-28 in the 2015 playoffs.

“We’re playing for the conference championship and a postseason berth, and, of course, we’re the underdog,” Owens said. “You think Grand Valley in Division II like you think of Mount Union in Division III. We’re working hard to get there.”

Ashland made the playoffs in 2007, ’08, ’12 and ’15 under Owens, a former Ohio State assistant.

The team is made up of primarily Ohioans. There is a strong contingent of players from central Ohio such as Prater, who ranks first on the team in passes broken up with six, is second in sacks with five and third in tackles with 38.

“What I try to do is get underneath people’s pads — my arms aren’t long, but I’m strong,” Prater said. “A lot of the passes I break up result from batting down the ball. If you can’t get to the quarterback, jump and get into the passing lane. That can be frustrating for the quarterback.”

Ohio Wesleyan at Wittenberg


Wittenberg (8-0, 7-0) can clinch at least a tie for its 15th North Coast Athletic Conference championship with a victory, and the outright title with a victory and DePauw loss. Ohio Wesleyan (4-4, 4-3) hasn’t won in this series since 2006.

Kentucky Wesleyan at Ohio Dominican


Ohio Dominican (5-3, 5-0) can set up a probable Great Midwest Athletic Conference championship game with Findlay (8-1, 5-0) by defeating Kentucky Wesleyan (2-6, 1-4). The Panthers have won five straight and scored at least 39 points in all but one game in that span.

Cincinnati at Tulane


Cincinnati (2-6) has lost five straight games and is 0-4 in the American Athletic Conference. The Bearcats are in a major rebuilding mode with 69 percent of the roster being true freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores. UC beat Tulane (3-5, 1-3) in its last visit to New Orleans in 2014.

— Mark Znidar