TERRE HAUTE, Ind. -- Bluffton University relied on a timely defensive and efficient offensive performance to hand Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology its first loss of the 2014 football season, 31-17 at Cook Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Beavers forced five Rose-Hulman turnovers with their defense and held the ball for 37:00 on offense. Nicholas Sheehan passed for 204 yards and one touchdown, and Eric Fox rushed for 86 yards and one score for Bluffton.
The receiving corps for Bluffton featured two players over 100 yards in Jack Tomlinson and Donovan Brown. The defense was led by a 47-yard interception return for a touchdown by Miguel Alicia for the final points of the contest.
The Rose-Hulman offense was held below its NCAA Division III leading statistical averages but still passed for 301 yards. Sophomore Austin Swenson finished 30-57 for 301 yards, with Alec Fisher leading the receivers with six catches for 86 yards and one touchdown. Fisher also snapped Rose-Hulman's single-season record with his 10th touchdown catch of the campaign.
Defensively, sophomore Kevin Nowak led the Rose-Hulman defense with 12 tackles, including 10 solo efforts that included two tackles-for-loss and one sack. Freshman Tyler Brutofsky pitched in with nine tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss and one sack, with freshman Elijah Lloyd contributing seven tackles and one pass breakup. Senior Josh Sonneberger also had two tackles-for-loss.
Rose-Hulman took an early 3-0 lead on its first possession, marching 57 yards in 13 plays to score on a 24-yard field goal by junior Craig Larew. Bluffton answered with 17 straight points to take a 17-3 lead midway through the second quarter. Fox (34 yards) and Sheehan (11 yards) scored on touchdown runs, and Jordan Watkins booted a 32-yard field goal.
Rose-Hulman closed to within 17-10 at the half, courtesy of a nine-play, 54-yard march late in the second quarter. The Fightin' Engineers converted a fourth down on a 19-yard pass from Swenson to Aaron Abbott and a third down on a 15-yard pass from Swenson to Fisher. Freshman Michael Iacono finished the drive with a one-yard touchdown run.
In the second half, Bluffton pushed its lead to 24-10 late in the third quarter on a time consuming, 12-play, 69-yard drive that lasted over six minutes. Sheehan and Brown connected on a fourth down pass to put the Beavers ahead by two scores.
Rose-Hulman quickly marched back to within 24-17 on its next possession. The Engineers gained 60 yards in four plays, led by a 30-yard pass from Swenson to junior Jacob Dye. Swenson and Fisher hooked up on the historic nine-yard pass that gave the sophomore receiver his school record 10th touchdown catch this fall.
After the Rose-Hulman defense held, Bluffton made the biggest play of the game late in the third quarter. With the Fightin' Engineers trailing 24-17, Alicia snagged an interception and sprinted 47 yards for the final points of the game.
Rose-Hulman reached the the Bluffton five-yard line early in the fourth quarter, but a forced fumble stopped the drive and gave the Beavers another possession. Bluffton was able to secure the victory with two more defensive stands in the fourth quarter.
Bluffton improved to 2-3 overall and 2-1 in Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference play, while Rose-Hulman dropped to 4-1 and 2-1 in league games. The Fightin' Engineers hit the road for Defiance College and another league matchup next Saturday.