Bluffton hoping momentum from strong 2001 finish carries over into 2002By Tim Stried, SID
July 25, 2002
After taking home a share of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference championship in 2000, head coach Carlin Carpenter and his staff knew heading into last season that it wouldn't be easy to replace 15 seniors from that team, including nine that earned All-HCAC honors.
And the solutions didn't easily present themselves as the Beavers dropped three of their first four games to begin the 2001 campaign and appeared to be destined for a rebuilding year. In time, however, the answers were found as the Beavers won four of their last six games to finish 5-5 overall and 4-2 in the HCAC, good for a third-place tie.
Eight starters are back on both sides of the football for 2002, including five All-HCAC selections from last year, leading one to believe the questions won't be as difficult to solve this time around. But significant holes need to be filled if BC plans to continue the positive momentum and get off to a good start on their way to bringing the HCAC title back to Bluffton.
Carpenter, the longest tenured coach in all of Ohio college football, will once again be the man to lead that search as he begins his 24th season at BC with a coaching staff that owns a combined 70 years of experience along side him.
The offense remains under the direction of quarterback Brad Moore, who is back for his senior season after earning first-team All-HCAC honors as a sophomore and junior. Should he earn that honor again this season he'll become Bluffton's first-ever three-time all-conference quarterback. He already ranks among the top five in nearly every BC career passing statistic and has thrown just nine interceptions in 447 career attempts for a school-record low 2.01 interception percentage. He has thrown for 3,410 yards and 28 touchdowns so far at Bluffton and his 653 rushing yards are just 10 yards shy of the school record for rushing yards among quarterbacks.
Junior running back Jovan Johnson returns after leading the HCAC in rushing last year with 1,096 yards, which marked the fourth straight season a BC running back has led the conference in rushing (Tyson Goings led the HCAC in rushing from 1998-2000). The last time that happened was from 1955-58, when Hall of Famers Elbert Dubenion and Willie Taylor were carrying the football. Johnson, who started at wide receiver for the first 12 games of his career at Bluffton, took over at tailback in week three last season and rushed for over 100 yards in all but one game. He averaged 182.9 all-purpose yards a game as he also racked up yardage through the air (149 yards receiving) and returning kickoffs (22.6 yards per return) and led the team in scoring with eight touchdowns.
Two-year starter T.J. Phlipot returns at fullback after rushing for 278 yards (4.3 avg.) and three touchdowns last year as a sophomore. He also caught 10 passes for 91 yards and his blocking was a main ingredient in the BC running attack.
The offensive line graduated both starting guards, including Rick Orr (first-team All-HCAC) and Chris Clemens, but returns second-team All-HCAC tackle Luke Sorrell and honorable mention All-HCAC center Travis Lepley. Senior Tim Kruse and junior Max Jurrus split time at the other tackle in 2001, while sophomore Alan Estep returns at tight end. Also back is senior Joel Mick, who started at tackle and tight end as a freshman before missing nearly the entire 2001 season with a leg injury. The Beavers have led the HCAC in rushing three of the last four years, and the offensive line will need to gel quickly for that trend to continue, which will go a long way in deciding the success of the offense.
Junior Jim Dwenger returns to lead the receiving corps after catching 19 passes for 274 yards and five touchdowns last season. The graduation of Jon Spradling (37 career catches for 690 yards) leaves a starting spot vacant, which will be challenged for by senior Tony Boenker and junior Ben Osterland, both of whom have varsity experience.
Perhaps the strength of this year's team lies in the front seven of the defense, where six starters and every backup returns from 2001, when Bluffton gave up the fewest first downs in the HCAC and ranked second in total defense and pass defense.
All four starters on the defensive line return, including ends Brian Steiner (50 tackles, 6 tackles-for-loss) and Lucas Wilson (40 tackles, 5 TFL) and tackles Jeff Vincent (37 tackles, 4 TFL) and Matt Scholz (29 tackles, 2 TFL).
The linebacking corps lost outside backer Jon Richardson (second-team All-HCAC, 73 tackles, 7 TFL, 2 interceptions) to graduation, but return junior first-team All-HCAC middle linebacker Chris Sommers (98 tackles, 8 TFL) and junior outside backer Pat Craun (67 tackles, 5 TFL). Also back are sophomore linebackers Andy Tabler (21 tackles) and Scott Steiner (24 tackles), who both saw significant playing time last season.
The defensive secondary, however, was hit hard by graduation. Gone are three-year starters Jeff Company (honorable mention All-HCAC, 54 tackles, 3 interceptions) and Ben Schwab (honorable mention All-HCAC, 35 tackles, 3 interceptions) at cornerback and strong safety Josh Slaughter (44 tackles, All-HCAC in 2000). The lone returning starter is senior free safety Cam Staley (54 tackles, 1 interception), while two letterwinners also return, including senior Darin Riffle (32 tackles, 2 interceptions) and junior Matt Pursel (11 tackles). Last season the defense picked off 16 passes and racked up 283 return yards, which was just one yard shy of the school record.
Jovan Johnson's 566 yards in kickoff returns last season were the fourth-most in school history and will be counted on again to set up the offense with good field position. He will also likely take over the punt return duties, which were held by Jon Spradling (9.6 avg.) last year.
Senior place kicker Adam Burgess returns after a successful season in 2001. He converted 20-of-24 extra-point attempts and booted 8-of-14 field goals, including a 42-yarder as time expired to lift Bluffton to a 23-20 win over Thiel College on Sept. 15, which is believed to be the first-ever "walk-off" winning score in BC football history. Burgess already ranks sixth in career kick scoring with 62 points.
T.J. Phlipot will likely take over the punting duties after the departure of Scott Osborn, who averaged 33.1 yards per punt last season. Phlipot held those duties as a freshman and averaged nearly 32 yards per punt.
Bluffton's first four games are all against traditional non-league opponents, including at Marietta (Ohio Athletic Conference), home against Hiram (North Coast Athletic Conference) and at Thiel (President's Athletic Conference). After a bye week, the Beavers return to Salzman Stadium for homecoming against Urbana University (NAIA), which replaces Thomas More on the schedule from last season.
The conference schedule, which interestingly has the same home and away locations as 2001, begins with a visit to 2001 HCAC co-champ Anderson, followed by a home date with Hanover, which tied Bluffton for third place in the league last year. Bluffton played both opponents close last season but faltered down the stretch.
The Beavers' final four games this season were all victories last season, including at Mt. St. Joseph, home against Franklin, at Manchester and finally home against Defiance, which won a share of the HCAC title and qualified for the NCAA playoffs in 2001 despite falling to Bluffton 21-16 in week ten.