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BETHANY CLOSES OUT REGULAR SEASON SATURDAY VS. SAINT VINCENT
Nov. 11 - BETHANY, W.Va. – The Bethany College football team (4-5, 3-3) will try to clinch its first .500 season since 2001 and secure a spot in the top half of the PAC standings when it hosts Saint Vincent (3-6, 3-3) in “The Green Game” Saturday in a 1 p.m. season finale kickoff at Bison Stadium.
The Bison missed a chance to secure the .500 record last week with a 21-7 loss at Grove City. After a 10-yard touchdown run by freshman QB Matt Grimard (Lowell, Mass./Dracut) on their opening drive, BC did not score again, as they turned the ball over four times and converted on only one of four trips to the red zone. Bethany’s defense did limit GCC to 297 total yards and had four sacks, including two by junior DE Kasib Taalib-Din (New York, N.Y./Central Park East), but those positives did little to dampen the disappointment of the loss.
“Give Grove City credit for out-preparing and out-coaching me,” said Bison head coach Tim Weaver. “They were ready for everything we did and we were not ready for them. I need to do a better job of getting us ready to win that game and I did not. We need to finish plays on defense, as they caught a tipped pass for a touchdown. On offense, we need to finish in the red zone, which we didn’t do, we had a ball knocked out of our hands on the one-foot-line going in for a score and had a tipped interception returned to our 30.
“Nothing helps you feel better after a loss, but with a young team like ours, we still need to look at some positives,” said Weaver. “We held another team to under 300 yards of total offense and had some good drives on offense, but we just couldn’t finish. But we are way past the moral victory and happy to keep it close stage. We are in it to win and we didn’t do that Saturday.”
In addition to having a chance to clinch a .500 season, Saturday will be the final game for eight seniors, including OL Terry Davis (Rayland, Ohio/Buckeye Local); DL Lamar Fisher (Mount Vernon, N.Y.); DL John Gyure (Pittsburgh, Pa./Brentwood); RB Brandon Michaels (East Greenwich, R.I.); QB Dan Pegg (Uniontown, Pa./Laurel Highlands); OL Bob Rovnanik (Springdale, Pa.); LB Ryan Sipe (Pittsburgh, Pa./Penn Hills) and OL Jason Soltis (Port Vue, Pa./South Allegheny). Although it isn’t a large group or players who have seen a ton of playing time in their careers, Weaver says what they’ve meant to the program goes far beyond the number of snaps played.
“This group is so unbelievable to me,” said Weaver. “They have provided a great deal of leadership and there is no better example of being committed, staying with it and helping us turn the corner. They haven’t made a huge impact on the field, but they’ve made a bigger impact on the program than any other class we’ve had and they really, really deserve to get another win.”
Sending the seniors out with a win will be much more difficult than past match-ups with Saint Vincent after the Bison won the first three meetings by an average of 36.7 points. The three wins for this year’s SVC squad is two more than they won the last three years combined. Saint Vincent has also won two of their last three outings, including a 21-14 come-from-behind victory at Westminster. Despite playing without starting QB Aaron Smetanka, the Bearcats gutted out a win after falling behind 14-0 with 157 rushing yards and one TD from Mike Kale, who also threw for a score, as did last week’s starter under center Jake Smith.
The big difference for the SVC offense has been the addition of Smetanka, a 6-4 transfer from Robert Morris who sat out last week because of injury and is questionable for this week’s contest. He is second in the PAC in pass efficiency at 147.9 and has thrown for 1,640 yards and 15 TDs. A couple of talented wideouts will present issues for the BC defense in Tom Quirin (41 rec., 559 yds., 2 TDs) and Sheldon Loughner (26 rec., 413 yds., 9 TDs) and with last week’s big game, Kale is now sixth in the PAC in rushing with 672 yards.
So while the Bearcats have proven they can be a more balanced attack, Weaver still says the key for Saturday will be who is under center.
“Normally you say it doesn’t matter, but in this case, it does,” said Weaver. “Saint Vincent proved they can run the ball to win last week, so we’ve had to prepare for a lot of run and for a lot of downfield passes to be ready for either quarterback. Both can run it, but Smith is the bigger threat to take off. The one liability we have is our young defensive backs covering the deep ball and with Smetanka, they might be better than anyone in our league.
“They also have wide receivers that are huge with good hands and make plays, so they will present match-up problems for us,” said Weaver. “And having run for nearly 200 yards last week now gives them the confidence in being balanced.”
The Saint Vincent defense has also seen dramatic improvement, which is due in large part to younger players gaining more experience. The Bearcats are third in the PAC in points allowed (21.7) and are giving up 53 yards less than they did a season ago. The big playmakers are a pair of linebackers, with Armando Fortunato ranking second in the conference with 86 tackles and Anthony Johnson right behind him with 85 stops. Cornerback Bryan Santos is solid on the outside with 38 tackles, four interceptions and 10 passes broken up.
“They have some guys who have played a lot over the last couple years and now they are playing really well and with a lot of confidence,” said Weaver. “They pursue very well and are extremely athletic in the secondary. There is something to be said for having a lot of experience and we hope to be there next year with our group because there is no substitute for playing a lot of snaps in college football.
“We challenged our guys to make the tough plays this week,” said Weaver. “If a throw isn’t perfect, make an adjustment and make the catch. If you start to slip off a block, take an extra step to stay on it as long as possible. For us to be successful against Saint Vincent Saturday, we will have to be balanced and execute well.”
There is a fair amount on the line for both teams this week, especially when looking back at the preseason poll that had Bethany tabbed to finish seventh and Saint Vincent eighth. The teams come into Saturday tied for fourth place in the conference with 3-3 records and the winner will finish in the top half of the standings. That and a chance to lay down the next building block with a .500 season puts a whole lot of meaning into Saturday for the Bethany Bison.
“We’ve talked to the team this week and told them this is game is just as big as the Thomas More game (Oct. 23),” said Weaver. “If you look at it from either team’s perspective, we’ve both had solid seasons and exceeded expectations, but whoever wins this can say they had a good year. And in our case, with how many we have returning next year, this can really give us momentum going forward.”