BLUFFTON, Ohio - The Beavers shocked the HCAC and the pollsters around the country by taking down the #9 ranked Franklin College Grizzlies on Saturday, Nov. 9, after a late 44-yard touchdown grab by Donovan Brown (Cincinnati/Purcell Marian) broke a 17-17 tie and helped the Beavers cap their first win over a top 10 opponent in school history, 24-17. 17 points are the fewest the Grizzlies offense, which averaged 51.3 points per game heading into Saturday, has scored all year, including contests with #1 Mount Union and Butler University. The defensive efforts of Mike Shroyer (Pataskala/Watkins Memorial) and Josh Runda (Lima/Bath) were a huge factor as both seniors racked up 16 tackles on Senior Day.
Bluffton got on the board first after senior Shawn Frost (Mt. Gilead) caught a screen pass from freshman quarterback Connor Sheehan (Monroeville, Ind./Heritage) and took it 73 yards to paydirt. Sophomore Zach Rader (Van Buren) converted the PAT and the Beavers took a 7-0 lead into the second quarter.
In the second period, Rader answered a Franklin field goal with one of his own, connecting from 25 yards out to give the Beavers a 10-3 spread at the 6:08 mark. Franklin was able to answer with 22 seconds left in the half on a Jonny West rush from nine yards out to knot the score at 10-10 heading to the break.
Bluffton held Franklin scoreless again in the third quarter and took the lead after Sheehan went in from a yard out on a quarterback sneak which helped the Beavers to a 17-10 lead heading into the final 15 minutes of action.
It wasn't until late that Franklin was finally able to tie the score again when Kole Stogner found the end zone on a three-yard run with 3:44 remaining in the game. The Beavers were only able to run 1:43 off the clock before having to punt the ball, giving the Grizzlies possession on their own 26 yard-line with 1:57 on the clock and three timeouts remaining.
West completed 4-of-5 passes to help Franklin get to their own 45 before the quarterback fumbled a snap into the arms of Bluffton defensive end Ryan Leopold (Ottawa/Ottawa-Glandorf), giving the Beavers possession on their own 47 yardline with 1:04 left on the clock.
After an incomplete pass on the first play of the drive and a 13-yard toss to senior C.J. Sewell (Lima/Shawnee) on the second, Sheehan heaved a long ball down the left side of the field for a closely guarded Brown. The defender got a hand on the ball, but it bounced Brown's way and landed safely in his arms as he carried it across the goal line for the go-ahead touchdown. Senior Austin Sweeney (Adrian, Mich./Whitmer) converted the extra point to cap a crazy drive, putting the Beavers ahead 24-17 with just 27 ticks left on the clock.
West completed two short passes to All-American Kyle Linville, moving the Grizzlies to their own 48 yardline with six seconds left and time for just one play. West took the snap and rolled to his right, only to be chased down by freshman lineman Linkoln LaRoche (Dola/Hardin-Northern) for a 14-yard sack with no time left on the clock, helping the Beavers become the first team to hand Franklin's seniors a Heartland Conference loss in four seasons.
Sheehan finished the day completing 23-of-38 passes for 260 yards and two touchdowns. Frost and Brown hauled in five of those passes apiece. Frost finished with 126 yards and a touchdown while Brown chipped in with 86 yards and the game-winning touchdown. Sheehan's two TD passes helped him add to Bluffton's single-season record as the Beavers have 22 now with one game to play. Eric Fox (Brunswick) led the Beaver rushing attack with 26 yards on 15 carries. The junior also added 21 receiving yards on eight receptions.
Aside from Shroyer and Runda, junior Wyatt Herman (Edgerton) and sophomore Ryan Aelker (New Bavaria/Holgate) had big defensive days while constantly pressuring West, racking up 10 and nine tackles, respectively. Travaun Reeves (Berkely, Mich.) finished with six tackles and a big interception that he returned 25 yards, while Leopold, Ben Schamp (St. Marys/Memorial) and Josh Hadley (Harper Woods, Mich.) also recovered fumbles for the victors.
Although the Grizzlies racked up 463 yards of offense, the Bluffton defense came up huge with four takeaways and nearly a fifth if not for a penalty on the other side of the field that negated a fumble recovered by the Beavers late in the fourth quarter. The Beaver victory will likely force Franklin to defeat rival Hanover College next Saturday to claim a slice of its fifth consecutive Heartland Conference title (with Rose-Hulman) and berth in the NCAA Division III tournament.
The Beavers (3-6, 3-4) will play their final game of the season next week in Defiance at 1:30 p.m., looking to finish at an even 4-4 mark in the conference. Bluffton has had the upper hand recently, winning the last three contests with the rival Yellow Jackets.