Hanover, Bluffton set for next chapter in storied rivalry

By Tim Stried, SID
October 10, 2000

Bluffton College fans may look at the rest of the 2000 football schedule and begin thinking about a trip to undefeated Defiance College on the last day of the regular season, but make no mistake about it-the road to the 2000 Heartland Conference championship must go through Hanover College. And that's exactly where Bluffton will line up Saturday in their quest to remain undefeated in the HCAC.

In 1999 both teams entered Bluffton's Salzman Stadium with perfect 3-0 records and left behind a game that none in attendance will soon forget. Bluffton led 38-34 late in the game, but a BC turnover led to a Hanover TD pass with ten seconds left on the clock to seal the verdict in favor of the Panthers.

That victory catapulted Hanover to a 10-1 record and their second consecutive Heartland Conference title and another trip to the NCAA Division III National Playoffs. Bluffton, meanwhile, finished 7-3 and circled October 14, 2000 on their calendar for a rematch with the Panthers.

Hanover enters Saturday's game with a 2-3 overall record, but don't think for a minute that the Panthers aren't still a top-notch team. Their losses have come by an average of just eight points and to top teams Washington & Jefferson (3-1 overall), Thomas More (4-1) and Defiance (5-0). The Panthers were nationally ranked in nearly every pre-season poll, including as high as eighth in the Columbus Multimedia poll. They were also a unanimous pick in the HCAC pre-season coaches' poll to win the league. Bluffton was picked second.

And Hanover is sure to have its sights set on getting back to the .500 mark. Since HC Head Coach Wayne Perry took over the program in 1982 the Panthers have had just two seasons with a losing record. In his 19 seasons at Hanover, Coach Perry has a 129-55-2 overall record and has won five conference titles. Bluffton has not beaten Hanover in the last five meetings dating back to the 1991 season.

Long known for its passing attack and outstanding quarterbacks, this year's Hanover squad is no exception. Senior Eric Bruns is back to lead the offense and leads the Heartland Conference with 302.8 yards passing per game. He has passed for 11 touchdowns, but his nine interceptions have hurt his pass efficiency rating. Running back Travis Morris has 140 yards on the ground so far this season which leads the team.

Bluffton counters with the league's top rated passer in Brad Moore and the leading rusher in Tyson Goings, who also leads the league in scoring. Bluffton also has the league's top receiver in Luke Habegger, but due to a broken leg suffered against Mount St. Joseph last week the Beavers will have to have to play the rest of the season without him. Starters Jamie Stevens and Jon Spradling along with backups Joe Hoye and Ben Osterland will have to pick up the slack to make up for the loss of Habegger, who undergoes surgery Friday morning just before Bluffton departs for Hanover.

The Bluffton defense will face a passing attack from Hanover that they have not seen the likes of yet this season. The Panthers return first team All-HCAC receiver John Agan, who has 47 catches for 516 yards already this season. In all, Hanover has five receivers who have over ten catches and over 100 yards receiving.

A look at past scores in this series brings back memories of heart-stopping games. In addition to last season's nail-biter, Hanover won 56-49 in 1992 and 40-37 in 1987, while Bluffton won 40-21 in 1988 and 56-41 in 1985. Hanover leads the all-time series 19-4.

As always, the game can be heard on 107.1 FM out of Delphos.