BLUFFTON — All Columbus Grove had to do to grab a share of the Northwest Conference title was take care of business Friday night against Bluffton.
It didn’t take long for the Bulldogs to take command of Friday’s football game, as they scored quickly and often en route to a 42-13 victory against Bluffton at Harmon Field.
With the win, Columbus Grove (7-3, 6-1 NWC) will share the conference title with Crestview and Spencerville. All three teams entered Friday’s action with one loss in the NWC, and all three came away with wins.
The victory also likely gives Columbus Grove a home game in the first round of next weekend’s playoffs.
Columbus Grove left little doubt Friday night, as it rolled up 304 yards of total offense. The defense held Bluffton to 100 total yards.
“It’s a long time coming,” Columbus Grove coach Andy Schafer said. “We’re excited. Man, that felt really good.
“Obviously, that’s one of your first goals, to win that conference title. And we’re excited to do it in no better place than on Bluffton’s field. That’s a big rivalry for us. So for us to win it here means something special. Our guys were basically a field goal away from winning the conference title outright against Spencerville. So, I think our guys are right in the spot where they need to be. We’re excited for this program and where it could go in the next few weeks.”
It was domination by Columbus Grove from the start.
After a three-and-out by Bluffton to begin the game, Columbus Grove took over and mounted a 9-play, 62-yard scoring drive that was capped off with a 26-yard run by Brady Hauenstein (7 rushes, 94 yards). With the point after by Rece Verhoff, the Bulldogs took a quick 7-0 lead with 5:49 left to play in the opening quarter.
Columbus Grove came back on its next possession and traveled 57 yards on six plays to push its lead to 14-0, which held up until the end of the first quarter. Garrett Nemire ran it in from three yards out to cap off the scoring drive for the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs struck again with 7:11 left in the first half. Nemire capped off a seven-play, 72-yard scoring drive with an 11-yard run. With the extra point, the Bulldogs led 21-0.
After Columbus Grove defensive back Caleb Barrientes intercepted a pass from Bluffton quarterback Nate Schaadt, the Bulldogs made the Pirates pay. Columbus Grove traveled the 25 yards in five plays, capped off with a 23-yard TD pass from quarterback Blake Reynolds (8 of 10 passing, 103 yards) to Barrientes to extend the lead to 28-0.
Right before the halftime break, Columbus Grove capitalized on another Bluffton turnover. After a fumble by Schaadt at the 15-yard line, the Bulldogs took over. Reynolds then quickly found Gabe Clement wide open on the first play of the possession, and the sophomore receiver tip-toed his way into the end zone to push the lead to a 35-0 halftime advantage.
In the first half, Bluffton had minus-8 yards of total offense. Columbus Grove reeled off 239 yards of offense in the first half (157 rushing, 82 passing).
“I think they (Bluffton) had one first down in the first half, and that was on a penalty,” Schafer said. “For our guys to play that well on defense, hats off to them, especially against a triple-option team. You can make a lot of mistakes playing against a triple-option team. But I thought our team did a good job of playing assignment football.”
The Bulldogs came out of the locker room and quickly added another score. Colin Metzger ran it in from four yards out to cap off a six-play, 52-yard scoring drive.
Bluffton finally got on the scoreboard. Running back Deandre Nassar hauled in an 18-yard TD pass from Schaadt with less than five minutes left in the game.
Then, with less than 30 seconds left to play, Logan Rhodes ran it in from 7 yards out to round out the scoring.
“We’re clicking on all cylinders,” Schafer said. “To see Blake Reynolds throw the ball the way he did shows that his shoulder is in good condition. After he was injured in the Spencerville game, we weren’t sure.”
Added Reynolds, “It’s always our main goals – to win an NWC title and to make it to the playoffs. And we did both of them tonight.”
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