By: Joe Watkins, sports information assistant
BLUFFTON, Ohio - The Bluffton University football team hosted Manchester on Homecoming weekend and it what turned out to be a nail-biter. The visiting Spartans came out on top, 21-17, with the help of two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns. Bluffton dipped to 1-6 overall and 1-4 in Heartland Conference play while Manchester improved to 3-4 overall and 3-2 in the HCAC.
Bluffton struck first late in the first quarter when Plummie Gardner (Lima/Perry) found Caleb Heilman (Tipp City/Tippecanoe) for a 10-yard scoring toss in the back of the end zone for a 7-0 lead with 3:27 left in the opening stanza. After holding the Spartans scoreless in the first quarter, Manchester finally found the end zone thanks to a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown by Dillon Nelson that evened the score up at 7-7 with 11:37 left to play in the first half. The Spartans caught the home team off guard when Austin Roberts threw a 70-yard touchdown pass to Marshall that put them up 14-7. Adam Duncan (Northwood/Lake) connected on a 26-yard field goal which made it 14-10 heading into the break.
After a scoreless third period, Isaac Zickafoose (Middlebury, Ind./Northridge) recovered a fumble and took it 80 yards to the house for a Beaver touchdown. His somersault made it 17-14 with 11:52 to play. Unfortunately with 7:07 left in the fourth, Plummie Gardner (Lima/Perry) threw a second pick six that was taken back for a 43-yard touchdown by Manchester's Dillion Nelson. That would ultimately be the icing on the cake for the Spartans.
Gardner completed 11-of-29 for 106 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions. Drake Campbell (Trenton/Edgewood) and Darian Greeley (Belleville/Chippewa Valley) went for 53 and 31 yards on the ground, respectively. The Beavers finished with 113 yards in the air and 128 yards on the ground for a paltry 241 yards of total offense. The Spartans managed just 320 total yards. Both teams struggled on third down with Bluffton converting 3-of-16, compared to 4-of-14 for the Spartans.
The Beaver defense was led by Antonio Crossty (Wooster) who rolled up with 10 solo tackles. Zickafoose had six solo tackles and most notably a 80-yard fumble return for a touchdown. Dylan Shaffer (Shelby) also tallied six solo stops for the home team.
The Beavers will be off on Oct. 20 with a bye before consecutive HCAC road contests the next two weeks. They travel to Anderson University on Saturday, Oct. 27. Kickoff is slated for 1:30 PM.