Quinton Baker spun, lunged to the 1-yard line and fumbled just before tying the game late in the first half.
It was one of the few times Ashland would catch a break. Tyson Baker pounced on the loose ball to knot things up at 14-14 with 2:43 left in the second quarter.
George Washington reeled off 21 unanswered points to take a 35-14 victory at Putnam Stadium on Friday night in the third matchup of the competitive series. GW holds a 2-1 edge since 2011.
It takes a lot to overshadow a 208-yard rushing performance, which Quinton Baker had, but Patriots senior running back Draven Riffe did just that. The transfer from Van, W.Va., administered a rushing clinic, piling up a staggering 38 carries for 241 yards and four touchdowns. The effort came on the heels of a season-opening 25-attempt, 265-yard night in a win over South Charleston a week ago.
“It’s a tribute to the (offensive) line blocking real well and a tribute to him and how he takes care of himself,” said GW coach Steve Edwards Jr.
Edwards’s crew had trouble stopping the Tomcats, too, as Baker set the tone early with a 64-yard burst on his second rush of the contest. He averaged nearly nine yards a carry on 24 touches.
“He’s a quality back, I mean good gravy!” Edwards Jr. said. “That kid is a player. I love him. I’d like to have him, too.”
The Patriots did finally stop Baker at a critical juncture early in the fourth quarter. Ahead 28-14, GW dropped Baker for back-to-back losses to redeem itself after a fumble.
Ashland’s defense, which looked improved in coach Tony Love’s eyes, forced a turnover on downs to stay within striking distance.
The Tomcats’ next possession, though, fell apart after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was called near the Ashland bench after a GW tackle landed Baker well beyond the sideline. The Tomcats were just seven yards away from the red zone when they were forced to move back 15 yards.
“I think we had a kid kind of step out there and get Quinton off the ground,” Love said. “The referee may have seen that as him being aggressive. I don’t think he was being confrontational, he was just going to get his buddy. But the referee wanted to make sure, and I’m not going to argue about it. We teach the kids to stay in the box no matter what and we’ll take care of it as coaches.”
After that, GW’s Tyler Jordon sacked Hunter Prince for an eight-yard loss. A Prince pass was then picked off by Jacob Jackson with less than three minutes remaining.
Riffe rumbled in from seven yards out to account for his fourth and final TD of the night.
“He’s hard to bring down,” Love said. “They get him going downhill in a hurry. They let him carry it over and over again.”
The game began with eight consecutive Riffe runs. He polished off a 13-play, 70-yard scoring drive with a 2-yard score.
After the two teams exchanged fumbles, Prince found paydirt from two yards out following Baker’s aforementioned 64-yard run.
Jon Alexander found Jacob Jackson for one of his five total completions on seven passing attempts for a 16-yard TD to put GW ahead 14-7.
Ashland (1-2) responded with the Tyson Baker fumble recovery on a 10-play drive.
A key swing in momentum occurred shortly after, when Austin Giacomo returned the ensuing kickoff 66 yards. Riffe found the end zone just moments later to give GW a 21-14 lead heading into intermission.
“I thought that was really huge,” Edwards Jr. said. “We knew they were getting the ball after the half, so that was big. They had some good momentum going.”
After Riffe sped 31 yards past the goal line with 3:38 remaining in the third period, the scoreboard malfunctioned, leaving the time to the officials on the field.
“We had a few curveballs tonight, with a couple touchdowns being called back and the scoreboard messing up,” Edwards Jr. said. “This was a great atmosphere and it’s a great place to play. Coach Love and his staff do a great job with this program.”
Love was most frustrated about Ashland’s three fumbles lost and six penalties.
“It’s just lack-of-discipline things,” Love said. “That’s uncharacteristic for us.
“It didn’t feel like they were 35-14 above us,” he added. “The whole game just kind of felt like, they’re not able to stop us, we’re playing well defensively at points, we can get the ball back. They just kind of started to move away from us on the scoreboard.”
Miles McGranahan added 54 yards on the ground for the Tomcats. GW (2-0) got 61 yards through the air from Alexander.
AARON SNYDER can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2664.