RICHMOND, Ind. - The Beavers won a thrilling Heartland Conference opener at Earlham College on Saturday, September 15, after Bluffton linebacker Ben Kaufman (Ottawa/Ottawa-Glandorf) intercepted a pass in the end zone during the last minute of play to seal the 28-20 comeback victory. The win moved Bluffton's record to 2-1 (1-0 HCAC) and gave the Beavers their first conference-opening win since 2005. The seven interceptions shattered the school-record of four pickoffs while the nine turnovers created is also a school mark.
The Quakers got on the board early when quarterback Alonzo Genelin hit Marcus Coby for an 11-yard touchdown pass after an impressive opening drive that saw Genelin complete 7-of-8 passes for 61 yards. The two-point conversion attempt failed, resulting in a 6-0 Earlham lead with 10:45 remaining in the opening period.
Bluffton freshman running back Calib Alexander (Ocala/Fla./St. John Lutheran) opened Bluffton's initial possession with a 42-yard rush and capped it four plays later, getting into the end zone on a two-yard scamper. Austin Sweeney (Adrian Mich./Whitmer) connected on the extra point, giving the Beavers a 7-6 edge midway through the first quarter.
On Earlham's next possession, Genelin completed five more passes and led the Quakers into the red zone, but the drive was halted after Bluffton's Nick Smith (Troy) recovered a fumble on the Bluffton six-yard line.
Earlham went back on top, 13-7, early in the second quarter when Genelin connected with Jalen Kenner for a 63-yard touchdown pass. Bluffton put together a few long drives but could not convert before halftime, giving Earlham the 13-7 edge at the break.
The Quakers struck first in the second half and extended the lead to 20-7 after Kenner caught his second touchdown pass of the day, this time a three-yarder from Genelin.
Bluffton junior Aric Steagall (Hillsboro) answered with a three-yard rush to paydirt on the following possession, trimming the deficit to 20-14 after an eight-play, 54-yard drive. Just over one minute later, Bluffton safety Jeff Parker (Bristol, IN/Northridge) intercepted Genelin at the Earlham 34-yard line, setting up a 20-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tyler Wright (Troy) to Steagall, giving the Beavers a 21-20 lead with just over a minute remaining in the third quarter.
Another Parker pickoff early in the fourth quarter led to the Beavers' final score, an eight-yard touchdown run by Alexander. Sweeney hit the extra-point to give the visitors a 28-20 lead with 11:35 remaining in the game.
Both offenses were kept in check the rest of the way until Earlham had a last chance in the red zone before Genelin's pass was intercepted by Kaufman, sealing the 28-20 Beaver victory.
Alexander had a huge day for the Beavers, racking up 164 rushing yards on 33 attempts with two touchdowns. He also added two catches for 44 yards. Steagall went for 88 yards and a touchdown on 14 touches. Wright finished 4-of-11 passing for 79 yards and a touchdown.
For Earlham, Genelin finished 29-of-47 passing for 296 yards with three touchdowns and seven interceptions. Kenner tallied 117 receiving yards and two touchdowns on nine catches.
Parker, Mike Johnson (Browns Mills, NJ/Pemberton Township), and Joe Maldonado (Dade City, Fla./Zephyrhills) finished with six tackles each. Five of Parker's six tackles were of the solo variety and he also came up with two interceptions. Hahn picked off two passes of his own while Tyler Hensley (Batavia), Josh LeFever (Churubusco, Ind./Churubusco) and Kaufman added one interception each.
Offensive production was fairly even between the teams as Bluffton racked up 366 yards and Earlham tallied 351. However, the majority of the Beavers' yards came on the ground (287) while Earlham relied on its passing (296). The Beavers also gave Earlham 99 yards on 12 penalties during the course of the game.
Bluffton will be back home next Saturday, September 22, when the Beavers host HCAC rival Mount St. Joseph with a game time of 1:30 p.m.