Sept. 13 - BETHANY, W.Va. – Freshman RB Eric Walker (New Brighton, Pa.) scored two fourth quarter touchdowns, as the Bethany College football team tallied 20 unanswered points in the final period to rally from a five-point deficit and score a 34-19 win over visiting Kentucky Christian University.
The triumph was the Bison’s fourth consecutive in a home opener and raised their record to 1-1. The Knights, a first-year NAIA program, dropped to 0-3.
Bethany won the toss and elected to receive. On the first play from scrimmage, the Bison opened up their bag of tricks, as a flea-flicker resulted in a 57-yard scoring pass from freshman QB Chad Smith (Washington, Pa.) to junior WR Matt Cruse (Naples, Fla./Barron Collier) to give the Green and White a 7-0 lead just 14 seconds into the game.
It was a sloppy first half for the Knights, who fumbled their first two possessions. BC was unable to convert on the first miscue, but the second loose ball, coupled with a KCU personal foul, gave the Green and White the ball at the visitors’ 46. Three plays later, sophomore RB Marcus Santini (Seminole, Fla.) broke through for a 17-yard touchdown run to increase Bethany’s lead to 14-0.
The rest of the first half saw mistakes from both sides. The Knights came right back after Bethany’s second score and reached the BC 7. The drive stalled but KCU walked away empty-handed after a 24-yard field goal sailed wide left. The teams exchanged fumbles a few series later, as BC junior DL John Gyure (Pittsburgh, Pa./Brentwood) sacked Knight QB Ricky Phillips and stripped the ball, which allowed junior DL Dan Gigler (Pittsburgh, Pa./Shaler) to pounce on the loose ball at the KCU 38. However, the next play, Bethany coughed it right back up on a Santini fumble.
Two plays after that, the Knights struck for their first score. Phillips, who had a huge day throwing the football, unleashed a pass deep down the middle that Andre Sherman ran under for a 59-yard touchdown play. The extra point made it 14-7, which is where the game stood heading into halftime.
KCU grabbed the momentum at the start of the second half with a quick score on their opening drive. A solid kick return gave them the ball around midfield and the Knights needed just five plays to go 53 yards for a touchdown, which came on a two-yard run from RB Jake Hughes. The extra point missed wide left and Bethany stayed in front by a point, 14-13.
The Bison punted away on their next possession and KCU moved right back down the field for the go-ahead score. A 14-play, 80-yard march was highlighted by a 22-yard completion from Phillips to Daniel Anderson on third down and 22. The Knights faced a fourth and seven at the BC 16 and Phillips’ pass into coverage looked like it would be knocked down. But the ball deflected off a Bison defender and back to Anderson at the goal line, who went into the end zone for the 16-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion attempt failed, but KCU had their first lead of the day at 19-14 with 3:32 to play in the third quarter.
Bethany’s offense, which had been silent since the first quarter, sprung to life after that KCU score. Freshman QB Jeff Joyce (Pittsburgh, Pa./Baldwin) ran the drive, which covered 57 yards in 10 plays. He ran four times for 20 yards and a pass interference penalty helped the Bison get down inside the Knight 10. After Walker picked up the first down on a fourth and one at the KCU two, Smith bulled into the end zone on a sneak on the first play of the fourth quarter to push the Bison back in front. After the two-point conversion try failed, BC’s lead stood at a tenuous 20-19.
The Bison defense stepped up to stop the Knights on their next drive and force a punt, but Bethany’s drive for an insurance score ended on an interception at the KCU 22. But on the first play following the INT, Phillips fumbled the snap and BC freshman DL Bobby McConnell (Wheeling, W.Va./Wheeling Park) recovered to put Bethany right back in business. One play later, Walker pounded into the KCU line. He kept churning and finally broke through a horde of defenders to race 28 yards to the end zone for a touchdown, with the extra point extending the Green and White lead to 27-19.
Bethany’s defense would again bend, but not break on the ensuing Knight possession, as they reached the Bison 41 before turning the ball over on downs. On the next play, Smith lofted a ball deep down the middle to Cruse, who hauled it in for a 53-yard play down to the KCU six. Walker would cap the scoring when he ran to paydirt from a yard out to give Bethany their final 34-19 cushion.
The final statistics showed a near perfect balance for the Bison on offense, as they totaled 186 yards on the ground and 185 through the air. Walker led all ground gainers with 76 yards and his first two career touchdowns, while Santini had 58 yards and one TD. In the air, Smith was 9-of-16 for 168 yards and a touchdown, which went to Cruse, who had three catches for 120 yards. Pacing the Bethany receivers in catches was junior TE Jorge Laboy (New York, N.Y./Central Park East) with four receptions for 42 yards.
The BC defensive charges were led by Gyure, who posted 10 tackles on the day. Of those, 3.5 were for losses, including two sacks, and he also forced a fumble. Junior FS Nelson Mitzen (Waynesburg, Pa./Waynesburg Central) and junior CB Michael Salters (McKees Rocks, Pa./Sto-Rox) both made nine hits as well.
Phillips was the top man for the Knight offense, which rolled up 539 total yards in the loss. He completed 32 passes for 433 yards and two scores. However, he was limited to just 16 rushing yards on 15 attempts after coming into the game with a team-high 124 yards on the ground. The KCU defense was led by LB Brad Stafford with 12 tackles.
Bethany will return to action next Saturday when they travel to Grove City (Pa.) College for the PAC opener for both teams. Kickoff against the Wolverines, who improved to 1-1 Saturday with a 19-10 triumph over Carnegie Mellon (Pa.) University, is scheduled for 7 p.m.