Explosive offense, stout defense lift football to conference-opening win at Bluffton

Connor Gibson

BLUFFTON, Ohio – Behind explosive offensive plays and a stout defense, the Hanover football team picked up a 28-10 conference road victory at Bluffton Saturday afternoon.

The Panthers (1-2, 1-0 HCAC), who were opening their Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference schedule, picked up their first league-opening win since the 2012 season. Hanover has also won two straight over the Beavers (1-3, 1-1 HCAC) and now hold a 34-8 edge in the all-time series.

Both sides of the ball contributed to Hanover's strong start, as the Blue and Red led 21-0 early in the second quarter. Getting the scoring started was sophomore Noah Wezensky (Fort Wayne, Ind.) and junior Conner Gibson (Lexington, Ky.), who connected on a 32-yard passing touchdown at the 8:08 mark of the opening quarter.

The long-scoring plays continued on HC's next possession, as a 37-yard run by sophomore Shawn Coane (Evansville, Ind.) capped a brief three play, 54-yard drive, which accumulated just 58 total seconds. With the point-after successful, the Panthers led 14-0 with 5:46 showing on the first quarter clock. Coane finished the contest with 78 rushing yards on 15 carries, while tallying 107 all-purpose yards.

Hanover's defense was aggressive early, finding ways apply pressure in the backfield seemingly every play. As a result, Bluffton was held to a pair of three-and-outs on its opening two drives, which accumulated minus-three yards. In all, HC forced the Beavers into a punt on their first four possessions.

Wezensky then tossed his second touchdown of the game, this time a 37-yard score to junior Jackson Daugherty (Greenwood, Ind.). The Panthers led 21-0 after 20 minutes of play. Hanover's three scoring drives spanned an average time of 2:08, covering six plays for 69 yards.

Daugherty tied for the team high in receptions, seven, with classmate Taylor Bleistein (Wesley Chapel, Fla.). He also recorded a career-high 116 receiving yards to go along with his second quarter score. Dating back to last season, the junior now has a touchdown in five of his last six outings.

Wezensky spread the wealth Saturday, as he completed nearly 70 percent of his passes, 30-of-44, for a career-high 294 yards. For the second consecutive game, the sophomore also tossed three touchdowns. Gibson, who was on the receiving end of two touchdown tosses, finished with three receptions for 54 yards.

Bluffton was able to get a field goal before the half and HC's lead was 21-3 at the break. Neither side was able to get any offensive momentum in the third quarter, as the Panthers and Beavers combined for seven straight punts to begin the second half. Hanover then threw an interception, but it did not come back to hurt, as the defense forced a turnover on downs, thanks to a tackle by senior Zach Dauer (Cincinnati, Ohio) on fourth and 14. Dauer was one of nine Panther defensemen to record at least four total stops in the contest. The senior also had one of HC's six tackles for loss.

Following the turnover on downs, the Panthers drove down the field to take a 28-3 lead with 7:52 remaining. Wezensky to Gibson for the second time capped a 15 play, 79-yard drive, spanning 6:51.

Bluffton was able to tack on a touchdown late, but it would not be enough, giving HC its first win of 2018.

Leading the balanced defensive attack, which allowed under 200 yards of total offense, was sophomore Kyle Treber (Mishawaka, Ind.), who had six tackles in the contest. Freshman Kiefer Askew (Warner Robins, Ga.), sophomore Zikk Omoruyi (Palm Beach, Fla.) and senior Zach Donan (New Albany, Ind.) all added five total stops as well. Askew pitched in with one pass breakup, while Donan had 1.5 tackles for loss.

Hanover will look to stay unbeaten in conference play when the team closes out its September slate at Anderson. The Panthers and Ravens will meet at 1:30 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 29.

Contact: Tyler Jester