Harding at Ashland

NOON, ASHLAND

Records: Harding 9-3, Ashland 11-1

Series: First meeting

It was the second half of Ashland’s first-round Division II playoff game when safety Kevin Bourne hesitated running onto the field despite it being his turn to play in the team’s defensive rotation.

Nick Powers, the player Bourne was to substitute for, had just made an impact play on second down.

“The coaches kept Nick in there because he was playing that well," said Bourne, a senior from Newark Catholic. “They couldn’t take him out at that point, they just couldn’t do that. This system is really nice, especially when you trust the players you are playing with. I rotate with Nick a lot, and I trust Nick a lot. It’s great to play that way."

On an afternoon when lightning and torrential rain delayed kickoff 15 minutes and puddles were everywhere, the Eagles defeated Northwest Missouri State 21-18 to advance to the round of 16 for the second time. Northwest Missouri State won the previous two national championships.

The rotation system has kept players such as Bourne, Powers, linebacker Ryan Corkrean and defensive end James Prater fresh. Powers is from Hilliard Darby and Corkrean and Prater from DeSales.

“I’ve been there in week nine and 10 when I was at Kent State saying, ‘Oh, my shoulders hurt. Oh, my knees hurt,’ " Bourne said. “I’m pretty fresh at this point."

Powers said the buddy system works because the players check their egos.

“We started rotating this year at all positions, and it has paid off," he said. “Our mentality is to go as hard as you can. That helps us that we know fresh legs are coming in. It’s 100 percent all the time. We have confidence in everyone."

Powers had opportunities to play quarterback at Notre Dame College, Malone, Saginaw Valley State and Ohio Dominican, but chose Ashland’s offer to switch to defense.

The decision has paid off with Ashland having won the Great Lakes Conference championship and making the playoffs for the fifth time under coach Lee Owens.

“We’re excited for our school and program after that game last week," Powers said. “The conditions were terrible last week, but our coaches talk about it every week that we have to be ready for sudden change. We prepared well and were ready for everything. Now, we push even harder."

Connecticut at Cincinnati

NOON, CINCINNATI 

First-year Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell has stressed the last two weeks that “I’m not focusing on next year." The Bearcats (3-8) need a victory to avoid their worst season since finishing 2-9 in 1998 under Rick Minter. UConn is 3-8.

Findlay at Assumption

1 P.M., WORCESTER, MASS.

Findlay (10-2) won its first Division II playoff game last week with an upset over second-seeded Shepherd in Super Region 1. It will rely on Harlon Hill Trophy nominee Daouda Sylla to get the second win. He has run for 1,471 yards and 18 touchdowns. Assumption is 10-1.

Case Western Reserve at Mount Union

NOON, ALLIANCE

The universities are 60 miles apart, but this is the first meeting since Case merged with Western Reserve in 1967. Case (11-0) is in the playoffs for the fourth time since 2007 behind quarterback Rob Cuda (2,585 yards passing, 28 touchdowns). Mount Union (11-0) is averaging 53.5 points per game.

mznidar@dispatch.com

@MarkZnidar