Photos by Mark Yoder
Bluffton wrapped up their first winning season since 2005 with an exciting 23-19 victory over Columbus Grove. The road win caps a 6-4 campaign and gave the team’s fifteen seniors a high note to end their career. The win was hard earned for the Pirates, who were outgained by the host Bulldogs in total yardage, 390-205. Columbus Grove ends their year at 2-8.
A listless first quarter resulted in a 0-0 tie but the scoreboard started to come to life quickly in the second quarter. Robbie Stratton intercepted a Bulldog pass and raced 45 yards for the game’s first score. Grove responded in just four plays with a score of their own on a 65 yard touchdown pass to Mason Smith. Smith hurt the Pirates all night with 116 yards receiving. The Grove defense forced a Pirate punt and drove 92 yards in just three plays. The scoring play was a 77 yard quarterback keeper by Riley Brubaker, giving Grove a 12-7 lead. Bluffton came right back with a nine play drive, including seven passes by quarterback Mitchell Ault. The Pirate qb hit four different receivers on the drive, the final one being Levi Kistler for an 18 yard score putting BHS back in front 15-12 with 2:29 left before half. The Bulldogs were relentless, driving the field in ten plays and scoring a three yard touchdown with just ten seconds left in the half for a 19-15 lead. In all, 34 points were put on the board in the second quarter.
The teams had another stalemate in the third quarter as the teams traded punts back and forth. Again, it was Robbie Stratton with a spark. The junior picked off another Brubaker pass, setting up Bluffton’s next score as Bluffton took possession at the Bulldog 40 yard line. Mitchell Ault threw to Isaac Little for 20 yards and two plays later Ault arced a pass to Stratton in the back corner of the end zone for a 17 yard score. Coach Dennis Lee said of Robbie’s night, “He gave us a boost obviously. The pick six got us going in the first half. Then another interception, the touchdown catch, the big hit on their running back. Robbie was everywhere tonight.”
With a four point and eleven minutes to go, the Pirate defense had a challenge before them to protect the lead. The Pirates were up to the task, led by senior captain Drake Luginbuhl. Grove advanced to the Pirate 48 but was forced to punt. With 6:14 left, Grove got the ball again but the Pirate defense was stout, stopping the Bulldogs on fourth down to turn the ball over on downs. Senior Christian Lane made back to back stops on the drive. The hosts got the ball back one final time at their own 10 yard line with 1:36 left and no timeouts. Brubaker passed the Bulldogs to the Pirate 38 yard line with eight seconds left and he then threw to the end zone but the pass fell incomplete. Bluffton shut out Columbus Grove for the second half to hold on for the victory.
“This was a great rivalry game. We didn’t bend, they didn’t bend. Neither team dominated the game but in the end, our guys made the plays. Our defense played very well and we made enough plays on offense,” Coach Lee said. He added, “I’m very proud of the way we played the second half of the season. We continued to improve from Week 1 and this was a great end to the year.”
Mitchell Ault finished the game 10/15 for 132 yards and two touchdowns. Noah Stratton gained 45 yards on 14 carries to lead the rushing attack. Robbie Stratton caught four balls for 45 yards, leading a gang of six receivers who caught passes. Drake Luginbuhl had 8 tackles to lead the defense with Ault adding 6.
Playing their final game for Bluffton were seniors Noah Stratton, Drake Luginbuhl, Joey Bertka, Josh Bracy, Robert Demmellweek, Jonah Bourassa, Isaac Little, Andrew Lee, Cody Williams-Basinger, Eric Burroughs, Drew Donley, Hunter Smith, Christian Lane, Scott Shumaker and Trevor Haines. The group graduates with a career record of 21-19.
[ Full Story ]