Oct. 10 - BETHANY, W.Va. – If the Bethany College football team (2-3, 0-2) wants to claim its first PAC victory of the season Saturday, it will have a tall order in front of them, as they host undefeated Waynesburg (Pa.) University (5-0, 2-0) for the Bison’s Homecoming contest. Kickoff at Bethany Field is slated for 2 p.m.
The Bison lost their third straight game last Saturday in a 36-15 defeat at Grove City (Pa.) College. The game was tied at 15-15 late in the third period, but the Wolverines scored 21 unanswered points to pick up the win, despite being outgained by the Bison 445-396. BC was hurt by two crushing turnovers that led to 14 of Grove City’s 21 points late in the game. The Bison also failed to take advantage of their opportunities, as they managed just seven points in six trips to the red zone.
“Looking back, last week was really the first time we showed our youth,” said Bison head coach Tim Weaver. “From the mistake on the punt return that led to a touchdown to an interception that Milton (Joyner), who is in just his fifth game ever as a quarterback, threw, we just made some inexperienced mistakes. However, we played well on both sides of the ball for long periods of time. We’re shifting our focus from winning games to playing better and we did that for a bulk of the game.”
Now that Bethany has reached the midway point of its season, Weaver has had an opportunity to see how his team has developed through five games. And when it comes to grading his offense to this point, he says there are a lot of positives to build upon, especially a ground game that is averaging 237.4 yards per game and freshman RB Marcus Santini (Seminole, Fla.), who rushed for 151 yards and one TD last week and is averaging 7.0 yards per carry (45-314).
“I’d have to give our offense a passing grade so far,” said Weaver. “There is night and day improvement in the running game from last year, which has made us more balanced. We think we’ve found a good running back in Marcus Santini and our offensive line gets better every week, which is highly encouraging because we’ll have all those guys back next year.
“Our passing attack has flashed at times this year, but our problem is, we don’t have a go-to receiver who we know will catch the ball every time,” said Weaver. “We dropped two touchdown passes last week in the end zone that would have given us the lead, which changed the complexion of the game. But overall, I am pleased with the direction and development of our offense and we have a lot of players playing at a high level right now.”
The grades on the defensive side of the ball are somewhat similar to the offense. On one hand, BC is rated first in the conference in pass defense (107.8) and have fast-rising young players like sophomore FS Nelson Mitzen (Waynesburg, Pa./Waynesburg Central), who made 12 tackles last week, and junior SS Brandon Zeman (Bridgeville, Pa./Chartiers Valley), who had nine stops and two pass break-ups.
However, the Bison are ranked eighth in the conference in rushing yards allowed (226.6) and aren’t making enough things happen on that side of the ball, according to Weaver.
“Defensively, I would give us a passing grade in execution and effort,” said Weaver. “We understand our system and have had very few major breakdowns to this point. We are playing very hard and except at linebacker, where we have three seniors, we have guys who will continue to develop.
“But where I give us a failing grade is in play-making,” said Weaver. “We aren’t tackling at the line and we aren’t making plays on balls in the air. Overall, we aren’t finishing at the point of attack and we need to make that step to get better as a unit.”
This week will see the Bison try to contend with a Waynesburg team that is 5-0 for the first time since 1978. The Yellow Jackets recorded their fifth win in a row last week with a 42-20 triumph over Saint Vincent (Pa.) College. Waynesburg raced to a 28-0 first quarter lead and never looked back. The offense was paced by RB Robert Heller, who ran for 130 yards and three TDs in limited action, while the Jacket defense gave up just 24 rushing yards and forced five turnovers.
Bethany’s defense will have to find a way to contain Heller, who leads all of Division III with 208 rushing yards per game, as well as 19.2 points per game. He has rushed for 192 yards or more in four of the five games, which included a school-record 277 and six total touchdowns in a 45-35 victory at the College of Wooster (Ohio) Sept. 8. While the 5-9, 190-pound back will draw a great deal of attention from the Bison, Weaver says his team can’t overlook the rest of the offense.
“While Heller is the focus of what you do, you don’t stop him,” said Weaver. “We need to contain him by getting more than one man to the ball. But even though he’s put up great numbers, he isn’t the only one we have to worry about. They have athletes on the perimeter who can make plays and two quarterbacks (Kyle Kyper and Andy Lauterbach) who are playing well right now.”
Waynesburg’s defense also presents a great test to the Bison, especially BC’s ground game that has 192 yards or more in four of the five games so far. The Yellow Jackets are ranked first in the PAC and third in the nation in fewest yards allowed at 45.2. No one has rushed for 100 yards this season against Waynesburg, with Grove City coming the closest (98) back on Sept. 22. And while teams are gaining 171 yards through the air, Waynesburg is also second in the conference in sacks with 19.
“They provide a great challenge to our running game,” said Weaver. “It will be a good test because the last time we played a strong unit against the run was Geneva, who Waynesburg is just as good as, if not a little better. We were held to 67 yards that week, so it will give us a chance to see if we’ve improved. They play really hard, all of them can run and they also put a great deal of pressure on the quarterback, so they also know how to slow down a passing attack.”
If the Bison are going to be the first team this season to deliver a loss to Waynesburg, Weaver says keys will be improving the areas that he said needed shoring up at the halfway point of the season.
“Offensively, we need to run the ball effectively like we have and make plays in the passing game,” said Weaver. “I’m not saying we need to throw for a bunch of yards, but we need to make throws and catches we haven’t in a couple weeks.
“Defensively, we need to contain Heller and limit his big plays,” said Weaver. “And we can’t panic when he rips off a 20-yarder. He’s that good and it will happen, so need to stay poised and get ready for the next play.”