BLUFFTON, Ohio - The Beavers welcomed Heartland Conference foe Manchester to Salzman Stadium on Saturday, September 29, looking to continue this season's quick start. However, the Spartans (1-4, 1-2 HCAC) were able to fend off the Bluffton offense late in the game to earn a 24-14 victory, their first of the season. Bluffton slipped to 3-2 overall and 2-1 in the Heartland Conference following its first HCAC setback of the year.
The Spartans wasted no time getting on the board, scoring on their first possession with a 38-yard touchdown pass from Nick Williams to Ryne Lehman. After forcing a Beaver punt, Williams took care of it himself, getting into the end zone with his feet and making the score 14-0 with 4:32 to play in the opening stanza.
The Beavers answered just before the end of the first quarter when sophomore Donovan Brown (Cincinnati/Purcell Marian) caught his first career touchdown pass from quarterback Tyler Wright (Troy). Austin Sweeney (Adrian, Mich./Whitmer) hit the extra point to make the score 14-7.
Bluffton evened the score nine minutes into the second quarter when Wright connected with fellow junior Shaun Frost (Edison/Mt. Gilead) for a huge 72-yard touchdown pass down the right sideline. However, Manchester added some separation right before the break on a 34-yard field goal by Kyle Evans, giving the visitors a 17-14 lead.
Two missed field goals plagued the Beavers in the second half before a last-minute interception by Max Jones was returned for a 51-yard touchdown, making the score 24-14 in favor of the Spartans. A few ticks of the clock later and that score went final as the Beavers record fell to 2-1 in the HCAC.
Wright led the Bluffton offense, competing 17-of-23 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns. Frost turned in an excellent performance as well, racking up 119 receiving yards on seven catches and a touchdown. Junior Airic Steagall (Hillsboro) carried the ball 15 times for 77 yards to lead the rushing game.
Junior linebacker Josh Runda (Lima/Bath) had an incredible defensive day, picking up 14 tackles, including five solos, a sack and two tackles-for-loss. Senior backers Mike Johnson (Browns Mills, NJ/Pemberton Township) and Ben Kaufman (Ottawa-Glandorf) each recorded 10 tackles. Johnson also added a tackle-for-loss while Kaufman came up with an interception.
The Beavers had the edge on total offensive yardage for the day, racking up 322 yards to Manchester's 307. However, Manchester put up more yards on the ground with 156 to Bluffton's 86. Each team ened the day with 17 first downs. The visitors finished with just a two-minute edge in time of possession after controlling the ball for over 20 minutes the first half. Manchester converted on 8-of-16 third downs and scored on both of their trips inside the red zone, while the Beavers were just 3-for-12 on third down and 0-of-3 scoring inside the 20-yard line.
Bluffton will be back in action next week (Oct. 6) at Rose-Hulman before returning home on October 13, to face the Hanover Panthers for Homecoming. Both games are scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m.