FRANKLIN, Ind. – Visiting Bluffton's defense did a solid job of keeping Franklin College's usually high-scoring offensive attack in check today.
The Grizzlies' defense, which piled up a whopping 11 quarterback sacks, was even better in FC's 23-9 football decision at Faught Stadium this afternoon.
Ranked 21st in the D3football.com Top 25 poll and rated 24th in the American Football Coaches Association's Division III Coaches Poll this week, Franklin improved to 7-0 in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference and 7-2 overall with its 25th straight league victory.
The Beavers, who remained in contention to knock off FC until the last few minutes, fell to 4-3 in the HCAC and 5-4.
Coupled with Hanover's 35-34 loss at Manchester today, the Grizzlies' triumph over Bluffton clinched a share of the 2012 league championship.
Franklin can claim its third straight outright title with a victory over Hanover a week from today. However, the HCAC's automatic bid to the NCAA Division III playoffs will be at stake.
The Grizzlies got on the scoreboard first when junior split end Kyle Linville made a spectacular grab of a high 6-yard pass from junior quarterback Jonny West in the back of the end zone with 6:41 to go in the opening quarter. FC's extra point was missed.
But those would be the only points FC would muster in the entire first half.
The Beavers tied the game before the intermission when junior quarterback Tyler Wright scrambled his way up the middle on a 8-yard touchdown run with 14 seconds left. The visitors then missed their conversion kick.
Franklin tallied 10 points in the third period with a 21-yard field goal by senior kicker Cole Richards at the 10;35 mark and a 1-yard TD run by sophomore running back Sam Otley with 4:33 left to move ahead 16-6.
But Bluffton threatened to pull within a few points when Derek Woods intercepted a West pass and returned the football to the FC 22-yard-line early in the fourth quarter.
The Grizzlies' defense held and the Beavers settled for a 36-yard field goal by junior kicker Austin Sweeney, trimming the host's lead to seven.
Franklin all but sealed its victory by driving 94 yards on 15 plays and scoring on another 1-yard run by Otley with 4:06 remaining.
Though Bluffton kept FC from producing any big quarters, their day was a case of so-close-but-yet-so-far.
The Beavers' offense was thwarted drive after drive by a Franklin defense that produced 11 quarterback sacks for 69 yards.
Junior Colin Gallagher, the starting right tackle on the Franklin offensive line, once again also played on the D-line and produced three of those sacks of Wright, totaling 17 yards. Junior end Dominique Boyd made two QB sacks for 17 yards.
Meanwhile, junior linebacker Alex Van Cleve made 7 solo tackles and 11 total tackles, including a sack, and freshman linebacker Keaton Lyons had 9 total tackles, including 6 solos.
The Grizzly defense held Bluffton to 194 total offensive yards.
West completed 24 of 31 passes for 255 yards with a TD and interception. Linville, this week's HCAC Player of the Week on offense, finished with 9 catches for 102 yards and his score for Franklin, which 390 total offensive yards.