(BLUFFTON) - Long touchdowns were the name of the game Friday night. Unfortunately for the Bluffton squad, the Columbus Grove Bulldogs had a few more explosive plays. Bluffton closed out their 2016 campaign with a 46-19 loss at the hands of Columbus Grove. Dakota Bricker had a career night scoring three touchdowns but it was Bulldog Reid Stechschulte that stole the show. The senior quarterback rushed for a school record 337 yards, scored five touchdowns on the ground and threw for one more score. Columbus Grove ends its year at 4-6 while the Pirates close out the season at 3-7.
On paper, these teams seemed to mirror each other. Both squads had started the year 3-1 but then dropped the next five games to go into Week 10 at 3-6 and outside the playoff picture. And for the first half, the score reflected two similar teams. Columbus Grove led 14-7 after one quarter and extended that lead to 27-13 at the halftime break. At the end of the day, the Pirates had no answer for Stechschulte who took the ball out of a shotgun snap and used his running back as a lead blocker over and over again. Stechschulte’s five yard touchdown run ended a long opening drive by the Bulldogs, covering 73 yards. Bluffton was quick to respond relying on Bricker. The junior took a toss to the left side and outraced the entire Bulldog defense for a 53 yard touchdown less than two minutes later. Freshman Kyle Koontz drilled the extra point for a 7-7 deadlock.
Columbus Grove kept the ball on the ground with running back Eric Warnecke and Stechschulte splitting carries. Stechschulte exploded up the left hand side for a 55 yard touchdown run on a fourth down play to give the visitors a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter. Stechschulte added a third score with 8:27 left in the half on a 15 yard scamper which followed a Pirate punt. Bricker ignited the Pirate faithful, who were decked out in white, with an 88 yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Dakota fielded the ball at the twelve yard line, made his way up the middle, spun out of two tackles and then made his way to the right sideline with some help from his blockers. The PAT was blocked and the score was 21-13. Grove added a touchdown, this time via the pass, from Stechschulte to Bryce Ricker with just 28 seconds left in the half.
The teams traded possessions most of the third quarter before Columbus Grove scored back to back touchdowns to put the game out of reach. Stechschulte again got loose for a 53 yard score. On the next Grove possession, the Bulldogs advanced to the Pirate one yard line and Warnecke punched it in for a 39-13 lead. The final Pirate touchdown of the season came just one minute later. Quarterback Jason Bracy threw a quick pass to Bricker on the right sideline and the speedster did the rest, racing 40 yards up the sideline for the score. Stechschulte added one more 40 yard score with 6:27 left to close out the scoring.
The Bulldogs outgained the Pirates 554-227 including a 436-229 discrepancy on the ground. CG picked up 20 first downs compared to 8 for BHS. Bricker ended the night with 166 yards on 12 carres for a 13.8 average. Kaleb Jefferson added 66 yards on 13 totes. Jefferson was everywhere on defense, totaling 12.5 tackles. Hunter Busch recorded 6 tackles, Baylor Garmatter & Jason Bracy added 5.5 each and Cole Wilson added 4.
Seniors playing their final home game for the Pirates included Jason Bracy, Dustin Falk, Brady Basinger, Owen Bischoff, Colin Phillips Cole Wilson and Nick Marcum.
Before the game, the Northwest Conference Champion team of 1956 were honored. Three members of the team were available, including Owen Ziessler, Jake Basinger and Bill Herr. The team that season went 7-1-1 and won the first Northwest Conference Championship for Bluffton football.