Zickafoose named HCAC Defensive Player of the Year
November 16, 2016
BLUFFTON, Ohio - Three straight winning seasons by the Bluffton University football team paid off in spades when the Heartland Conference handed out its post-season hardware following the 2016 season. A Bluffton record-tying seven Beavers (2000 and 2015) earned First Team All-Conference honors while four were selected to the Second Team and one captured Honorable Mention honors. For the third straight season, a Bluffton defensive lineman bulldozed his way to HCAC Defensive Player of the Year acclaim. Just the second defensive player in Bluffton University history to be named the HCAC Player of the Year, sophomore Isaac Zickafoose (Middlebury, Ind./Northridge) followed the trail blazed by two-time honoree Ryan Aelker!
Seniors Linkoln LaRoche (Dola/Hardin Northern), Ty White (Orrville), Jake Harmon (Van Wert/Crestview) and Dante Carroll (Gahanna/Lincoln) were joined by junior Micah Roberson (Ada) and sophomore Ian O'Donnell (Tiffin/Columbian) on the First Team. A trio of seniors, including Aaron Letinski (Allen Park, Mich./Allen Park), Conner Sheehan (Monroeville, Ind./Heritage) and Hayden Clark (Waldo/Mt. Gilead), along with sophomore Raphael Dell (Cincinnati/Hughes), were recognized as Second Team All-HCAC. Honorable Mention selection Ethan Williams (Van Wert) rounded out 12 All-Heartland Conference honorees from Bluffton.
Zickafoose instilled fear in opposing quarterbacks en route to his second straight First Team All-Heartland Conference award. A menace in the backfield, Zickafoose topped the Heartland Conference with 20 tackles for loss (10th in the country) and 11.5 sacks (10th in the country). Those numbers place the defensive tackle third on Bluffton's single season list for both categories, behind just Ryan Aelker's historic 2014 and 2015 campaigns. Zickafoose was named the HCAC Player of the Week after he stuffed the Manchester offense with 11 tackles, including 10 solos, on a day when he equaled Mitch Agner's (2008) school record with five tackles-for-loss. He blitzed the Spartans with three sacks, a forced fumble and a recovery in the Beaver victory. His 19 sacks are already third on Bluffton's career list while his 31.5 sacks are fifth all-time at Bluffton. Zickafoose finished the season with 46 tackles, including 33 solos.
Making the most of his first season as a starter, Jake Harmon spearheaded the Bluffton defense with a team-high 70 tackles (46 solos). He finished with seven TFL's for 20 yards and two sacks for a loss of 10 yards. The senior captain forced a fumble, recovered two and pressured opposing quarterbacks with three hurries. Harmon's 70 tackles were 11th in the Heartland Conference. He was the Heartland Conference Defensive Player of the Week following his dominating performance in Bluffton's 28-18 Homecoming win over Hanover when he piled up 14 tackles which included a sack, a QB hurry and a breakup. Harmon was named to the D3football.com Team of the Week after he forced a fumble and recovered two, all on Trine's first three possessions, as Bluffton went up 14-0 en route to Bluffton's first-ever win over the Thunder in week two.
Earning All-HCAC honors for the second straight season was senior Linkoln LaRoche who was a Second Team selection in 2015. LaRoche was tied for third in the conference with seven sacks, while his 11 TFL's were tied for 11th in the HCAC. He is tied for 6th on Bluffton's single-season sack list and his 14 career sacks are fifth all-time. LaRoche finished his outstanding career with 30 TFL's (7th all-time). He forced two fumbles this season and wrapped up 113 total tackles during his four years as a Beaver.
Taking over as the featured back in Bluffton's high-octane offense, senior Dante Carroll slashed his way to a Heartland Conference-best 741 yards on the ground. He also led the conference with nine touchdowns on the ground and 5.4 yards per carry. Carroll moved into 21st all-time at Bluffton with 1,349 yards on 289 carries (4.7 yards per rush). He had a career day in Bluffton's 37-31 win at Trine in week two when Carroll went for 186 yards on 26 carries with two TD's and a 54-yard rush.
Going head-to-head with the best wide receivers in the Heartland Conference, senior Ty White was fourth in the league with 10 breakups (4th all-time for a single season at Bluffton). His three pickoffs were tied for ninth in the HCAC. White finished his career tied for 5th all-time with 11 interceptions, while 22 breakups tied him for second all-time. He moved to the top of the list with 33 passes defended for his career. Showing his versatility, White moved into 13th place on Bluffton's all-time tackle list with 177 career stops. White's First Team All-HCAC award marked the third straight time he has been an All-Heartland Conference selection after two straight Second Team honors.
Junior Micah Roberson proved his record-shattering 100 receptions in 2015 was hardly a fluke as the wide receiver added 98 catches this season. His 98 receptions were 34 more than anyone else in the conference and they also placed him 3rd in the country for receptions per game. Roberson also led the HCAC with 103 yards per game and his 12 touchdowns were fourth in the conference. He surpassed the school record of 10 TD catches only to have sophomore Raphael Dell haul in a newly-minted mark of 15 touchdown receptions. Roberson was just two games into his junior year when he surpassed the school mark of 163 career receptions, held my Eric Metz. He is currently at 253 catches and his 25 touchdown receptions are five more than previous record-holder Andy Nowlin. His 121 yards in the season finale left Roberson only 10 yards shy of the career receiving yards mark (2,677 by Eric Metz). The 1,030 receiving yards racked up by Roberson are third on Bluffton's single-season list behind his school-mark 1,096 from last season and the 1,063 yards put up by Metz in 1999. He tops all Bluffton receivers with 12 games of at least 100 receiving yards.
Ian O'Donnell (First Team All-HCAC guard) and Ethan Williams (Honorable Mention All-HCAC center) helped the Beavers grind out 164.7 yards per game, the second-highest total in the Heartland Conference. Bluffton's 429.6 yards of total offense per game also ranked second in the HCAC thanks to their work in the trenches. The talented sophomore linemen opened holes for Dante Carroll, the leading rusher in the conference at 74.1 yards per game. They also provided protection for an air attack that threw for a Bluffton-record 264.9 yards per game.
Once he found a home on the defensive line last season as a junior, Aaron Letinski, who came to Bluffton as a safety, has made a habit of disrupting opposing offenses to the tune of 15.5 TFL's this year. Those 15.5 TFL's were second in the Heartland Conference to teammate and HCAC MVP Isaac Zickafoose (20). Letinski's extensive work in the weight room helped him to Second Team All-HCAC honors in his first season as a starter. He was second to Jake Harmon with 56 tackles, including 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and three quarterback hurries.
Raphael Dell not only avoided the sophomore slump, he put up one of the most prolific seasons by a Bluffton receiver in school history. His 15 scores shattered the previous mark by five touchdowns and they placed him sixth in the country (tied for first in the HCAC). His 874 receiving yards are third in the conference and sixth on Bluffton's single-season list. Dell is already tied for third all-time with 18 receiving touchdowns and his 1,276 yards are 10th on Bluffton's career list. The 90 points that Dell put on the scoreboard are tied for 8th all-time.
A three-year starter on the offensive line for the Beavers, senior Hayden Clark picked up his first All-Heartland Conference recognition after opening the holes for a Bluffton ground game the churned out 164.7 yards per game, the second-highest total in the Heartland Conference. He controlled the line of scrimmage, allowing Dante Carroll to put up an HCAC-best 74.1 yards per game. He also kept signal-caller Conner Sheehan on his feet as the air attack went for a Bluffton-record 264.9 yards per game.
Despite just over two full years under center for the Beavers, Conner Sheehan will graduate as one of the most decorated quarterbacks in Bluffton history. His 27 touchdown strikes as a senior shattered the previous record of 18 (Joel Parrett and Nick Sheehan) and his 2,360 yards passing (2nd in the HCAC) also moved him to the top of the single-season chart. Sheehan now holds school marks with 205 completions in a season and 55 career passing touchdowns which eclipsed Joel Parrett's school mark of 43. Sheehan finished his career with 4,999 career passing yards, fourth all-time. He moved into fifth all-time on the total offense list with 5,422 career yards and his 62.4 completion percentage is second all-time. He earned Second Team All-Heartland Conference honors after being Honorable Mention All-HCAC as a junior.
In conjunction with the All-HCAC selections, the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference also announced the All-HCAC Sportsmanship Team for the fall of 2016. Senior TRENT LONG (Elida) was selected to the All-Sportsmanship Team from Bluffton. This award has been developed as part of a conference-wide sportsmanship initiative. Members of the All-HCAC Sportsmanship team are selected by the coaches and their teammates as individuals who demonstrate the ideals of positive sportsmanship both on and off the field/court of competition.
Bluffton wrapped up its season at 7-3 (5-3 HCAC), improving to 19-11 during the three years since Head Coach Denny Dorrel came on the scene! The 23 victories put up by the senior class were the most since the 2001 seniors went 24-16. Bluffton's third straight winning season under Coach Dorrel marked the first time the Beavers have accomplished that feat since 1985-88!