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Pirate rally comes up just short vs. Grove in thrilling regional football final rematch

After the rematch, both teams boast 12-2 records; the two Pirate losses coming to Grove by seven points apiece.

By Cort Reynolds

FINDLAY__The Bluffton High School football team rallied furiously in the second half, but a last-ditch drive stalled in Columbus Grove territory to end their season with a 17-10 loss to the rival Bulldogs in the Division VI, Region 22 final thriller on a wet and cool Friday night at Donnell Stadium in Findlay.

The heartbreaking defeat in the All-Northwest Conference playoff showdown ended the highly successful Pirate season with a record of 12-2.

CG raced to a 17-0 first half lead, but Bluffton dominated the second half to get within striking distance of forcing overtime. The Pirates were threatening to score in the final two minutes when a late march died to end the comeback effort.

Top regional seed Grove won its 11th game in a row and advanced to play Versailles (12-2) in the Div. VI state semifinals November 24 in Wapakoneta. The Versailles Tigers whipped Anna 41-14 in their All-MAC region 24 final at Sidney.

The Pirates showed a lot of resiliency, but ultimately came up just short after falling behind by a big deficit of 17 points.

“We had some trouble getting things going on offense in the first half, and needed to settle down on defense,” said Bluffton head coach Jeff Richards. “At the half, we made some adjustments and the kids played with a ton of heart,” he noted. 

Grove controlled the ball for most of the first period, but was kept out of the end zone despite two good drives as the Pirate defense bent but didn’t break.

CG took an early 3-0 lead as they scored on a 33-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Evan Verhoff.

On their second possession the Bulldogs drove downfield. On third and five at the Pirate 14, the Bluffton defense stopped the run to bring up fourth and four.

A pass to the end zone was broken up in the end zone by Brody Anderson, who batted the Landon Best aerial away to earn a turnover on downs.

On third and 12, Pirate quarterback Garret Bogart eluded a big rush but his pass was intercepted at the Bluffton 34 by Trenton Barraza with just seconds left in the first period. 

Grove went for it all on the ensuing sudden change play. But an underthrown Best aerial to an open Zach Reynolds was intercepted by Braeden Jordan to thwart another scoring chance with three ticks left in the opening stanza. 

In the first quarter, CG out-rushed Bluffton 62-17.

The Pirates took over at their own 11 and on third and two, Landen Worcester was stopped short to force a punt. Kyle Basil’s 43-yard boot rolled dead at the CG 36.

A Barraza run gained 13 yards into Pirate territory at the 47. On second and eight, a Best pass to Reynolds gained 20 yards. Another Best aerial advanced to the Pirate 16.

Junior Barraza then made some Pirates miss and scampered 16 yards to paydirt to cap the 64-yard scoring march. The Verhoff extra point was good to stretch the Grove lead to 10-0 with 9:24 left in the half.

Worcester was dropped for a loss of one by the swarming CG defense. On second and 11 from their own 19, Bogart’s pass was caught out of bounds. His third down aerial was caught by Griffin Stackhouse but for a gain of just four yards to force another punt.

CG took over with good field position just short of midfield, but Barraza was stymied by the Pirate defense on consecutive plays. On third and four, Best rolled right and connected with Zane Stechschulte for a 17-yard gain near the sidelines.

The 6-2, 175-pound Barraza weaved his way nine yards to the 20. Best kept the ball and gained two yards to move the chains with four minutes left in the half.

Barraza gained five yards on the next run. Barraza then scurried to the end zone on a 13-yard run to culminate the 51-yard drive with 2:41 left in the second stanza.

The Verhoff PAT kick extended the lead to 17-0.

The Pirates started their next possession at the 20 after bobbling the ensuing kickoff. On second and two a short but pressured Bogart pass was caught by Quinn Eachus for a first down.

A Stackhouse sweep netted seven yards. Another sweep by Hayden Dearth gained 33 yards as he broke multiple tackles all the way to the CG 28.

A five-yard penalty brought up first and 15. A Bogart pass to Worcester gained six yards to the 26. Another sweep went out of bounds after a gain of four. 

On third and four, Worcester netted eight yards to the 14. A Bogart pass was dropped in the corner of the end zone as Reynolds helped break up the play with a well-timed push.

With 24 seconds left, a second down aerial was knocked down by Reynolds again. On third and 10, Bogart was sacked for a loss of four back to the 18 with 12 seconds left in the half.

Senior Basil’s 35-yard field goal attempt from the right hash was good to get the Pirates on the scoreboard just seven ticks before intermission.

The rugged Grove defense allowed just four downs in the first half, three of which came on their final drive before intermission.

Grove racked up 207 yards in the first half as they took advantage of good field position. Bluffton was limited to 105 yards before intermission, most coming on a 68-yard drive to end the half.

CG earned 12 first half first downs as they held the ball for over 15 of the 24 minutes.

On the first Pirate possession of the second half, Bluffton gambled and went for it on fourth and short in their own territory. QB Garret Bogart converted with the clutch play with a sneak at the 42.

On third and nine, Bogart’s aerial gained nine yards to the Bulldog 49. A play-action fake and reception by Jordan netted 14 more yards. Gavin Bogart’s sweep was stuffed for a two-yard loss by the CG defense.

A short pass into the flat lost two more yards to bring up third and 14. A Bogart pass was almost intercepted by Barraza to necessitate fourth and 14 at the 39.

Richards elected to punt as the offense stalled, and the pooch boot was downed at the CG 20. The promising drive yielded no points.

A Barraza run gained first down at the Bulldog 36. On second and 11, Best’s screen was nearly picked off. Worcester stopped the next run to force a CG punt that bounced dead at the Pirate 24 with 4:09 left in the third period.

A Bogart pass to Jordan gained 13 yards to start the next drive. On second and 10, an incomplete pass turned into a targeting penalty on a hard, high hit to Jordan.

Now just past midfield, a Bogart aerial over the middle to Jordan gained 13 more yards. Gavin Bogart broke a few tackles to move the chains on an 11-yard run with 2:07 left in the third quarter. Worcester carried CG defenders nine yards to the 15. 

On first and 10 at the Grove 12 with 50 seconds left in the quarter, a Bogart pass to the end zone was intercepted by Reynolds to deal the Pirates a crushing blow as another good drive came up point-less.

CG then fumbled and Bluffton sophomore defensive back Javen Crawfis recovered, followed by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Pirates.  

After the 15-yard flag they took over on the Grove 45 with seconds just left in the third stanza.

A pass into the flat was overthrown incomplete. A jet sweep by Stackhouse gained four yards as the quarter ended. Bluffton held possession for 11 minutes of the third quarter against the tiring CG defense.

On third and six, Bogart rolled left and threaded a pass to Dearth for a gain of 11 yards. A Jordan catch in the flat at the 26 ended up gaining 11 yards to the 19.

On second and nine, a Bogart pass over the middle to Dearth gained 17 yards to the CG two. On first and goal, Worcester was stopped short at the one-foot line.

Garret Bogart then powered in over center for a one-yard TD plunge with 9:28 remaining to play. Basil’s extra point kick cut the deficit to 17-10 and gave Bluffton all the momentum with 10 unanswered points.

The Bulldogs started the ensuing drive at their own 23 after the kickoff return. Barraza gained nine yards on two runs, and Grove moved the chains with a clutch five-yard run.

On second and 10, Best kept the ball for a five-yard run. On third and five, Barraza was dragged down for a key one-yard loss by Gavin Bogart. On fourth down CG punted and it was blocked by the 6-3 Dearth out of bounds at the Grove 35.

A Bogart keeper netted 12 yards to the CG 23. A sweep was stopped for no gain. On second and 10, a rushed pass to Dearth was almost intercepted and fell incomplete.

On third and 10 Bogart was sacked for a huge loss of nine by Levi Schroeder. On fourth and 19, the aerial into the end zone was nearly caught by Dearth but fell incomplete to turn it over on downs.

Starting at their own 32 with just over three minutes left, Grove faced third and four. Bluffton called its second timeout with 2:43 left in the fourth period to conserve time.

A run up the middle was stopped by Brody Sommers for no gain, and the Pirates called their final timeout. After two Bulldog penalties and a CG punt, the Pirates took over at the CG 48 with 2:28 remaining.

A reverse to Stackhouse gained just a yard but he got out of bounds to stop the clock. A pass was dropped to bring up third and nine. Another aerial was unable to be caught by Dearth to make it fourth and nine.

The fourth down pass over the middle to Jordan was dropped to turn it over on downs with just under two minutes left to play.

Barraza ran 48 yards all the way to the Pirate 11 against the dispirited Bluffton defense, with Worcester bringing him down. CG then ran the clock out to preserve the win.

“We had opportunities toward the end, but came up short,” said Richards. “Our seniors did an amazing job of leading all season. I am extremely proud of this group of young men,” he added.

The Pirates held explosive CG scoreless over the final 26 minutes as Bluffton dominated time of possession in the second half. 

After the hard-fought NWC rematch, both teams boast 12-2 records, with the two Pirate losses coming to Grove by seven points apiece. CG handed Bluffton its lone previous loss in the regular season finale at Grove 14-7 to win the Northwest Conference title.

The Pirates outscored their four playoff foes by a combined score of 145-23 during the 2023 postseason run.

Twelve Pirate seniors played their final games for Bluffton.

“This was a fun group to coach,” Richards summed up. “They committed themselves in the off-season, and played for each other.”


1 2 3 4 F

Blf 0 3 0 7 10

CG 3 14 0 0 17