BLUFFTON, Ohio – The Franklin College football team rode a dominant ground game and got the big plays when they needed them on defense to notch their first win of the year, downing Bluffton 34-19 on Saturday afternoon.
Senior running back Jacob Earl was the driving force of a Franklin (1-2) rushing attack that ripped through the Bluffton (0-3) defense for 292 yards on the ground. Earl set a new career-high with 207 yards and scored a touchdown on 23 rushing attempts. Three different members of the Franklin backfield found the end zone on Saturday afternoon.
The Grizzlies struck first on the scoreboard, going 76 yards on eight plays late in the first quarter with Austin Grunden finding the end zone to make it 7-0 Grizzlies with 1:16 to go in the opening period. Following a Beaver punt, Franklin punched in their second consecutive rushing score when Payton Healy scored from a yard out, putting the finishing touches on an 88-yard drive.
But the Beavers answered with touchdowns on each of their next two drives, including the opening drive of the second half. But a missed extra point following the second score kept the Grizzlies in front, 14-13. With their first drive of the second half, Carter Brown added three points to the board with a 27-yard field goal and after forcing a three-and-out, Robbie Strader connected with Bennett Beyl on a 58-yard touchdown pass to make it 24-13, the first career touchdowns for both quarterback and receiver.
Bluffton responded once again with a touchdown to get back within a score, but another missed PAT left it a 24-19 Franklin lead. The teams had to endure a 30-minute lightning delay and when play resumed, Brown connected on his second field goal of the afternoon, making it an eight-point game with 7:16 to play.
With Bluffton driving in Franklin territory, Franklin's Jacob Ferguson came up with the game's first turnover, picking off a pass and running it back 47 yards into Bluffton territory with 2:41 to play. Four plays and four Earl rushes later, the Grizzlies hit the end zone once again to put the game out of reach. Freshman JP Osafo picked off his first two career passes, the second one coming late to seal the win.
Making his first career start under center, senior Strader went 9-for-19 for 157 yards and the score to Beyl. He had plenty of help from not only Earl, but Grunden and Healy who rushed for a combined 102 yards.
Junior Evan Stambaugh recorded his third straight double-digit tackle effort to open the year, recording a team-high 11 stops. Michael Heading and Tanner Swindle set career-highs with nine and seven stops, respectively. The Grizzly front seven got after Bluffton quarterback Zach Nobis for four sacks, paced by 1.5 sacks from senior Brady Hale.
Franklin opens conference play next Saturday (Sept. 28), when they welcome one of the two teams they shared the league title with last year, the Mount St. Joseph Lions. Kick-off from Faught Stadium is set for 1:30 p.m.