Oct. 8 - BETHANY, W.Va. – The Bethany College football team will travel to Thiel (0-5, 0-2) Saturday for a 1:30 p.m. kickoff at Alumni Stadium, with the winner to come away with their first PAC triumph of the season.
The Bison dropped to 1-3 overall and 0-2 in the conference with a 42-12 defeat to Thomas More Saturday. After falling behind 28-9 at halftime, BC kicked a field goal to get within 28-12 and had a first and goal at the Thomas More seven early in the fourth quarter. However, they would turn the ball over on downs and the Saints tacked on two late scores to cement the win. Freshman QB Chad Smith (Washington, Pa.) completed 28 passes, the third-highest total in school history, for 288 yards and senior WR Taylor McNeil (Old Saybrook, Conn.) tied the school-record with 13 receptions for 82 yards.
Although Bethany dropped their second straight to open PAC play, head coach Tim Weaver said a lot of credit should be pointed in the visitors’ direction and he liked what he saw in his team’s competitive play.
“The main reason that one got away from us is because Thomas More is a good team,” said Weaver. “Their experienced quarterback returned from an injury, they simplified their offense and did a nice job getting the ball to space. Give (Thomas More) a bunch of credit, they out-prepared me.
“But if you look past the score, we had more yards then they did, and had the ball on the seven with a chance to get within a score early in the fourth quarter,” said Weaver. “We didn’t execute there, so it took the wind out of our sails and they added two late scores to make it look worse then it was. Overall, I thought we were much more competitive Saturday then other games we’ve lost by big margins in the past.”
Another highlight from the Thomas More game was junior WR Matt Cruse (Naples, Fla./Barron Collier) catching a 55-yard touchdown pass from Smith in the second quarter. It was the wideout’s 19th career touchdown reception, which broke the Bethany career record. In the game, he caught four passes for 136 yards, which gives him 17 receptions for 420 yards (second in the PAC) and a whopping 24.7 yards per catch, which includes seven catches for 20+ yards. Although Weaver is pleased with Cruse’s big-play production, he says his team missed a couple other chances to get the ball in his hands in the red zone Saturday.
“He has good, but misleading stats,” said Weaver. “We missed him three times in the red zone Saturday, which could have changed the game if we score. He is a big-play receiver because he’s bigger and faster then anyone else on the field and Chad’s huge arm is going to give him chances to make plays downfield. But we are looking to get him more underneath stuff, especially down around the goal line so he can use his body to get in position to make plays.”
Bethany’s coverage teams had a tough day against Thomas More, surrendering 193 return yards, including an 83-yard kickoff runback for a TD. It wasn’t all bad news for the Bison special teams Saturday, as freshman kicker Evan Plescia (Strongsville, Ohio/Copley) booted 26- and 25-yard field goals, the first time since 2004 a BC kicker has hit multiple field goals in a game.
“We take tremendous pride in our special teams, so Saturday especially hurt me because that’s my area,” said Weaver. “Usually, we’re the ones with big returns, converting a fake or covering kicks well. But if you look at the film of their kick return for a score, it wasn’t a breakdown on our part. Thomas More just blocked very well to open up lanes for a talented returner.
“Although our coverage teams didn’t do very well, we were real pleased with Evan,” said Weaver. “We were inconsistent kicking off early in the season, so we made the switch. Evan knocking his first two attempts through showed us something. Our back-up Carlos Perdomo (Tampa, Fla./Leto) also has a big leg and they are in constant competition with each other because we don’t want anyone to get comfortable.”
While the Bison are trying to score their first PAC victory of the season, Thiel is still looking to break into the win column for the first time. The Tomcats dropped their fifth straight decision to open the year last week by a 16-10 count at Westminster, their second loss this year by less then a touchdown. Trailing 16-3 in the closing minutes, Thiel cut the deficit to six on a two-yard scoring pass from QB Willie Bova to RB Cody Sirgey. The ensuing onside kick eventually bounced out of bounds, clinching the victory for Westminster. Senior WR Tim Van Horn caught five passes for 80 yards to pace the offense, while DT William Haase amassed five tackles, including 2.5 for loss.
Thiel’s problems stem from the offensive side of the ball, as they are ranked eighth in the PAC in total offense (241.6) and last in scoring (13.8). Bova has proven to be a productive signal caller, throwing for 895 yards and six TDs, but Thiel’s running attack hasn’t been as effective, ranking last in the league (62.6). Defensively, the Tomcats are third in points allowed (23.6) and opponents’ third down conversions (38.4 percent). Haase has been a force up front, racking up a PAC-leading 13.5 tackles-for-loss and is just four away from breaking the TC single-season record with five games to play.
The Bison are hoping they aren’t the cure for what ails Thiel, who have won five in a row from the Green and White, including a 37-13 win in Greenville last season. The Tomcats have averaged better than 260 rushing yards in their last four wins over Bethany, but the biggest problem for BC has been turnovers. They’ve turned the ball over 22 times in the last five match-ups and Thiel has returned five of those for touchdowns.
Although they have yet to win in ’08, Weaver sees a very dangerous team in the Tomcats and knows his team can’t be worried about how anyone’s season has played out to this point.
“We’re 1-3, so we can't look past anyone because of their record,” said Weaver. “Thiel has been competitive in every game they’ve played, something we can’t say. The seniors on their team were in the playoffs four years ago and they see us as a game they could, maybe even should, win. Thiel is physical and well-coached and when you play a team that is used to winning like they are, they will be desperate, which makes them very dangerous.”
Desperate might be a word to describe a Bison team that wants to avoid a third straight loss, but Weaver wouldn’t say that. He looks at a very tough opening part of the schedule and sees his team is still making progress.
“When you get around the midway point of the season, you take stock of your season,” said Weaver. “We’ve lost three games to teams with combined records of 10-3 and had a chance to win one of those at the end. Everyone is getting frustrated, from the players to the coaches to the fans, but we believe in what we’re doing and as long as we keep working, we’ll be fine.”