(PAULDING) - The combination of big plays and defensive thievery led to a lopsided 42-14 Pirate victory at Paulding to open the Northwest Conference portion of the football schedule. Kaleb Jefferson mauled the Panthers, rushing for 220 yards and scoring three lengthy touchdowns. When Jefferson wasn’t running over defenders, Dakota Bricker was zig zagging his way to the end zone. The speedy junior scored three times including a pick six interception return. Bluffton improved to 3-1 (1-0 in the NWC) with the victory, Paulding fell to 1-3 (0-1).
Playing their third road game in four weeks, the Bluffton offense started quickly on the way to their largest point total of the season. Jefferson exploded through the middle of the line, cut right and zoomed 66 yards untouched to the end zone. On the next drive, Jefferson extended the lead to 14-0 with a 37 yard score. The junior back caught a Jason Bracy pass over the middle and bowled over two Panther defenders at the ten yard line to walk in for the score.
Bluffton was rolling offensively but their momentum literally came to a halt due to a 30 minute lightning delay with 1:24 left in the first quarter. When play resumed, both offenses were stagnant the remainder of the half. Bricker lit up the field with an exciting interception return that was called back because of a block in the back. The half ended with the Pirates leading by two scores. Head coach Jeff Richards said, “We were dominant for the first ten minutes and the delay killed us. We came out flat for the rest of the half and had to regroup at halftime. We hurt ourselves with some penalties in the first half but really put together a great second half.”
Bluffton indeed rediscovered their mojo at the halftime break and quickly put the game away in the third quarter. Paulding fumbled the ball away on their opening drive giving Bluffton terrific field position at the 50. Jefferson rumbled 36 yards to the one yard line giving way to Bricker who took the direct snap and raced to the left pylon for the score. Jefferson said after the game, “I had a lot of open space today. Our line did a great job blocking and I was able to find some space and get downfield.”
Now down three touchdowns, Paulding responded. The Panthers scored in just five plays with running back Preston Ingol racing 37 yards to the end zone. Brice Rayle punted on Bluffton’s next possession pinning the Panthers at their own 20 yard line. Two plays later, Bricker burned PHS again when he intercepted a deflected pass and juked his way 30 yards for the score. Bricker talked about his shifty moves saying, “I’m looking for one opening, one cutback and to make a move and find space. I was able to do that tonight on a few plays.” Richards added, “Dakota is so dangerous with the ball. If he gets the edge it’s over. We’re trying to get the ball in his hands and let him make plays.”
Jefferson kicked off after the touchdown and the low, line drive kick slammed off a Panther defender. Gavin Conrad pounced on the loose ball giving Bluffton possession once again. Leading 28-8, Jefferson put the game away with a 42 yard touchdown run up the right sideline. Bricker added the final touchdown of the night on a simple handoff up the middle. 63 yards later Dakota had outraced everyone up the right sideline and BHS led 42-8. Bricker said, “I was able to play some tailback tonight with Dustin Falk out. He always does great and I was just trying to fill his spot.” Falk is battling a knee injury and looks to return to the field in the next few weeks. Paulding added a late score as reserves dotted the field to round out the scoring.
Bluffton won the yardage battle by a 350-259 count. Paulding’s wishbone attack yielded 245 rushing yards but four turnovers doomed the hosts. The Pirates did not give the ball away. As a team, the Pirates racked up 289 yards on the ground averaging over 9 yards per carry. Jason Bracy completed 6 of 11 passes for 61 yards and a touchdown. Hunter Busch had 5.5 tackles to lead the defensive effort for Bluffton. Jefferson added 5 and Gavin Conrad 4, each had a tackle for loss. Kaden Renecker was credited with 3.5 tackles and a tackle for loss as well.
Bluffton’s homecoming game is Friday when Allen East comes to town. The Mustangs are 3-1 after a 32-22 defeat at the hands of Delphos Jefferson this past week.