Oct. 23 - BETHANY, W.Va. – When the Bethany College football team hosts Thomas More (Ky.) College (4-3, 2-2) Saturday at 1 p.m., the Bison (3-4, 1-3) will not only be looking for their second win in a row this season but also against the Saints.
Last season, BC knocked off Thomas More 21-17 in Kentucky for their fourth win of the campaign. This year presents Bethany with the same opportunity, as the Green and White broke a four-game losing streak last week with a 41-21 victory over Westminster (Pa.) College. The contest was tied 21-21 heading into the fourth quarter, but the Bison scored 20 unanswered points to claim the victory. Senior QB Milton Joyner (Pittsburgh, Pa./Westinghouse) triggered the winning effort by throwing for 321 yards and two TDs, while also rushing for a pair of scores as he earned PAC Offensive Player of the Week.
“Last week was a great win that we needed and our players deserved after four tough weeks,” said Bison head coach Tim Weaver. “It was also nice for the program because it was another fourth quarter win. Since I’ve arrived, we’ve been in six games that were in question going into the fourth quarter and we now have a 4-2 record. That’s a very good sign because it shows our guys are in shape, they believe in each other and the staff is making good calls and adjustments.”
Obvious highlights in the Westminster victory were posted by the offense, which churned out 504 total yards, and the defense, which caused three fourth quarter turnovers, but the BC special teams also enjoyed a strong showing. Senior punter Mike Elias (Uniontown, Pa./Laurel Highlands) averaged nearly 40 yards per kick and pinned the Titans inside their own 20 twice in the second half. Freshman wide receiver Randy Rankin (Uniontown, Pa./Laurel Highlands) returned a punt 23 yards, and the Bethany kick coverage teams limited Westminster on their run backs and rank third in the PAC in kick coverage (15.4).
Although Weaver still sees room for improvement, he is pleased with that area’s progression through the season.
“Football is about turnovers and field position, so we spend as much time as anybody practicing special teams,” said Weaver. “We still aren’t where we need to be because we don’t kick the ball far enough. Our kick coverage has been solid, outside of one breakdown against Thiel, but teams still end up with a shorter field than we’d like. But special teams are a major focus because we don’t have the 100 most talented guys on our side, so we need to steal any advantage we can in this area.”
In Thomas More, the Bison will be facing a team who’s had quite a few games this season come down to the fourth quarter. The Saints lost 10-9 last week to Geneva (Pa.) College, which was the fourth time this year a Thomas More game was decided in the final 15 minutes. TMC was held to just 127 total yards of offense, including only 21 on the ground. Defensively, the Saints, led by freshman LB Matt Clark’s 17 tackles, allowed just 252 yards and recorded five quarterback sacks.
A tough defense has become a trademark for the Saints in the short time they’ve been in the PAC. This year, they are allowing just 15.3 points per game, second in the PAC. The unit is directed by a trio of young, impact linebackers, led by Clark, who is tied the PAC lead with 10.6 tackles per game. The Saints also boast the fifth- and sixth-leading tacklers in the conference in sophomore Brandon Kohrs (9.0) and sophomore Andy Poe (8.9). Even though the linebackers make a lot of the stops, Weaver says Thomas More’s entire front seven can cause any team problems.
“Their linebackers make a lot of tackles, but their defensive line is a very good group that is active and penetrates well,” said Weaver. “They can get up the field and cause havoc, which allows their linebackers to clean up. Their entire front seven just attacks constantly, tackles well and is very, very physical.
“It will be a good challenge for us up front,” said Weaver. “We’ve done a nice job running the ball and we plan on continuing that. We want to use our speed and threats on the outside to pull guys out of the box and if they choose to leave them near the line and dare us to throw, we feel like we can.”
For the Bison defense, another week brings another tough running back they must contend with. Saturday will be sophomore Cordario Collier, who is second in the PAC with 826 rushing yards (118 per game) and third with five rushing TDs. He opened the year with three consecutive 100-yard outings, but has broken into triples figures on the ground just once in the last four contests, although those three games were against three of the top four rushing defenses in the PAC.
“Collier is a very good back,” said Weaver. “He’s a different runner than what we’ve seen in that he’s quicker than he is fast. He has good vision and is better at making something out of nothing than the backs we’ve played.”
Thomas More may look to lean on their talented runner, as an injury in preseason to their last year’s starting quarterback Trevor Stellman left the Saints with a pair of freshmen under center. Starting the first four games was Josh Gauger, who threw for 763 yards and six TDs but was also picked off six times. The last three contests has seen Joey Zerhusen taking snaps and he’s thrown for 451 yards and six touchdowns while also rushing for two more. However, he’s coming off a rough outing against a top-ranked Geneva defense, as Zerhusen was just 7-of-27 through the air for 80 yards.
With a freshman guaranteed to be under center Saturday, most teams would be salivating at a chance to show numerous looks and send hordes of blitzes to try to rattle the young QB, but Weaver says Thomas More has been very smart in their game plans to prevent that from happening.
“With a freshman quarterback, the initial feeling is to come from everywhere and try to confuse him,” said Weaver. “But give their staff credit in that they’ve committed to protecting the quarterback. Plus, they are a good screen team, which neutralizes blitzes. So the combination of good screens and solid protection schemes make you think twice about sending lots of pressure.”