WOOSTER, Ohio – A scoreless game at halftime turned into a runaway for The College of Wooster football team, as a strong defensive effort from start to finish, plus a locked-in offensive attack in the second half equated to a 31-6 win for the Fighting Scots over Bluffton University in the team's season lid-lifter on Saturday afternoon at John P. Papp Stadium.
Wooster's (1-0) defense certainly did its part in the first half, and the offense had several near misses before rebounding to put points on the board on five consecutive possessions in the second half. In déjà vu fashion to last year's opener between the two teams, Wooster came away with a takeaway on Bluffton's (0-1) second possession when junior Beau Greenwood picked off Ryan Markoff's errant pass attempt and returned it to the Beavers' 18-yard line.
Senior K.C. Okoronkwo picked up the torch at the onset of the second quarter with Wooster's lone sack of the day, although the Scots did have heavy pressure on Markoff all afternoon. That led to the Beavers' signal-caller having a less-than-ideal 14-for-32 stat line with 154 yards, a touchdown, and a pair of picks.
Five plays after Okoronkwo's sack, Bluffton looked poised to convert on an easy third-and-1 play from its own 47-yard line when Markoff appeared to have a quick swing pass completed to Peyton Spurlock. Wooster's Matt Ulishney had other ideas, as the rookie corner shed his block and went on to break up the completion forcing Bluffton to punt.
Wooster twice had the ball inside the red zone in the first half, and junior Cam Pollard was a big reason why. Pollard, who made his debut at slot receiver, turned his reception on a third-and-4 play into an 11-yard gain, while later in that drive, a 5-yard tote by sophomore Chase Flanagan set up the Scots' at the Beavers' 1-yard line. Alas, a botched handoff led to a fumble, one of two recovered by the Beavers in the first half.
Bluffton's Jake Baumgartner had a chance to stake his team to a lead at the half, but his 27-yard field goal was off the mark. That kept the tilt scoreless, an anomaly for Wooster, as it's the program's first game in the 2000s where neither team scored in the first half.
Senior Nick Strausbaugh imposed his will on Bluffton throughout the second half, and it was his 30-yard touchdown catch that opened the scoring with 8:36 left in the third. Right before Strausbaugh's 26th career touchdown reception, classmate Jacob Lewis sprung free from the Beavers with a 29-yard reception.
Next, senior Christian Santos came away with Wooster's second interception of the game, which gave the Scots the ball back on the Beavers' side of the field. After driving down to Bluffton's 9-yard line, the Scots settled for a 26-yard field goal by freshman Lake Barrett, which made it 10-0 with 4:31 left in the third.
Wooster didn't have many defensive miscues after halftime, but Spurlock did spring free from the Scots' secondary once. That led to a 55-yard touchdown strike from Markoff with just inside three minutes left to play in the third.
It was all Wooster come the fourth quarter as a 2-yard touchdown run by sophomore Mateo Renteria, a 5-yard Renteria-to-Lewis touchdown pass, and a 1-yard touchdown run by sophomore Troy Baughman pushed the game out of reach, while defensively, the Scots yielded 16 yards on 12 plays. Baughman did the heavy lifting down the stretch with 11 carries for 59 yards in the fourth quarter, while for the game, the physics major went for 114 stripes on 28 totes.
Renteria quietly put together a 300-yard afternoon. The sophomore completed 28-of-43 throws for 308 yards. Strausbaugh turned eight receptions into 134 yards, 113 of which came after halftime. Lewis backed that up with six catches and 82 yards, while in all, eight Scots had a reception.
Santos's seven tackles marked the game-high for Wooster, while Okoronkwo finished with five. The seniors had 1.5 tackles for loss each.
Defensively, Wooster kept Bluffton in check both passing and rushing, as the Beavers were limited to 282 yards on 61 plays. Darian Greeley was Bluffton's leading rusher with 11 carries for 48 yards, while Adam Duncan had four receptions for 54 yards.
Wooster native Antonio Crossty made plays all over the field for Bluffton defensively. He finished with a game-high 17 tackles, while Stephan Kosakowski made 13 stops.
Next, Wooster opens North Coast Athletic Conference play against Oberlin College (0-1) on Saturday, September 14 at 1 p.m. at John P. Papp Stadium.