Oct. 3 - BETHANY, W.Va. – The Bethany College football team will try to end a two-game losing skid Saturday when they travel to Grove City (Pa.) College to take on the Wolverines in a PAC clash. Kickoff at GCC’s Robert E. Thorn Field is scheduled for 2 p.m.
The Bison fell to 2-2 overall and 0-1 in the PAC last weekend with a 37-13 loss at Thiel (Pa.) College. Bethany was within a point at 7-6 after a 15-yard touchdown run by freshman John Rhodes (Garretsville, Ohio/Garfield) early in the second quarter, but the Tomcats scored 17 consecutive points and used a rushing attack that set a new school-record with 425 yards to pull away for the triumph.
“Give Thiel’s staff a lot of credit, they did a better job of preparing their team than I did,” said Bison head coach Tim Weaver. “The dropped passes, sloppy tackling and special teams breakdowns were among the lack of fundamentals that I have to take the responsibility for.”
Despite the loss, Bethany’s ground game continues to a develop into a strong component of their game plan. The Green and White, who rushed for 192 yards in the contest, were paced by a pair of freshmen, as Marcus Santini (Seminole, Fla.) gained 78 yards on 11 carries and Rhodes churned out 48. Those two teamed with freshman Nick Czapor (Liberty Boro, Pa./South Allegheny) give the Bison a bright future on the ground.
“Our biggest point of emphasis in recruiting this year was to get bigger at running back,” said Weaver. “Everybody wants the guy who can go 80 yards any play, but at Division III, we think it’s just as important to have someone who can turn a two-yard gain into a six-yard gain by lowering his shoulder. They all have good vision and a feel for what we do and as we move the program forward, which still our focus, our running backs and young, developing offensive line are major bright spots.”
The running game is also the story on the other side of the ball, but for a different reason. Through the first two weeks against Hiram (Ohio) College and Saint Vincent (Pa.) College, who have a combined record of 0-8, BC allowed 163 yards on the ground. However, the past two weeks against Geneva (Pa.) College (record of 4-1) and Thiel (2-3), they have surrendered 764 rushing yards.
“You have to give credit to our opponents the last two weeks, but that doesn’t excuse the amount of yards,” said Weaver. “The main issue is that outside of one 76-yard run against Thiel, there haven’t been a lot of big plays. It’s come in six- , seven-, eight-yard chunks at a time. It’s the same story as last year that we are still getting pushed around at the point of attack and when we do have clean shots at backs, we aren’t making the plays. We have not tackled the way good college football teams do over the last two weeks.”
Grove City (1-4, 1-2) will be starting the second half of their season Saturday and are coming off consecutive conference losses by a combined 11 points. After losing 27-23 to Waynesburg (Pa.) University two weeks ago, GCC suffered a 14-7 loss at Westminster (Pa.) College last Saturday. The Wolverines tied the score at 7-7 on a one-yard TD run by RB Matt Weil, but the Titans scored with 30 seconds left in the first half and kept Grove City out of the end zone in the second half.
Offensively, GCC goes with more of a spread look than their traditional Wing-T they ran for years. The main player to watch for Grove City is QB Andrew DiDonato, who is throwing for 170.6 yards per game while completing 59 percent of his passes. His top target is Ian Tobin, who has 41 receptions but for just 208 yards (5.1 yards per catch). GCC can still grind it out on the ground, as Weil has rushed for 309 yards and five scores on the season.
One weakness of the Grove City attack is that teams have sacked DiDonato 25 times this season, most allowed in the PAC. Although that number drew the attention of the Bison coaching staff, they are still concerned about DiDonato’s scrambling ability and also whether they will see Grove City revert back to the Wing-T look against their rush defense.
“There is no question that pressure is the key when they are in their spread looks,” said Weaver. “Although 25 sacks is a number I’m sure they’d like to lower, what that doesn’t show is how many times DiDonato gets away for huge chunks of yardage. When they played Waynesburg, who has as good a defensive line as anybody, DiDonato gave them fits.
“But to be honest, the book is out on us defensively,” said Weaver. “Teams have proven they can line it up and run against us and Grove City has that capability. That’s what got them back into the game against Waynesburg and we except them to do that against us judging on our last two performances.”
Grove City’s defense, which is allowing 18 points per game, is led by a pair of linebackers in Bill Waugh (48 tackles) and Adam Eichler (47 tackles). They also boast the PAC leader in interceptions, as Mike Baker has four picks to match his 29 stops on the year. Although GCC is ranked just ahead of Bethany in total defense, the Wolverines have shown they are susceptible to the run, as they are giving up 172 yards per game on the ground, which could mean a nice day for the potent Bison backs.
“We are now to the point where we can legitimately say we will try to run the ball every week,” said Weaver. “Looking at the progression of the program, last year we ran for -2 yards against Thiel and last week, we had over 190. So we will try to establish a balance, so the running game can set up the passing attack.”
Obviously the rushing attacks will play a large role in who wins this week’s showdown, but Weaver is also looking for his team to just focus on playing better while not worrying as much about the score.
“Defensively, our keys this week are containing the quarterback so he doesn’t beat us with his legs and also stopping the run when they’re in their Wing-T sets,” said Weaver. “Offensively, we need to continue to run the ball effectively and make plays in the passing game.
“Overall though, for the mentality of our team, we do not want to just focus on winning the game,” said Weaver. “We need to focus on executing our assignments and just playing good football. If we do that, we’ll look at the scoreboard at the end and see how we made out.”