Oct. 11 - GREENVILLE, Pa. – Thiel QB Willie Bova scored on a 10-yard run and an interception inside the 10 ended the Bethany College football team’s (1-5, 0-3) final chance, as the Tomcats (1-5, 1-2) came away with a 50-44 victory in four overtimes at sun-splashed Alumni Stadium in Greenville Saturday.
Bethany dominated the first half in posting a 28-7 lead at intermission. Both teams scored on their first possession, with BC taking a 7-0 lead on an 18-yard scoring pass from freshman QB Chad Smith (Washington, Pa.) to senior WR Taylor McNeil (Old Saybrook, Conn.), but was answered when the Tomcats scored on a 35-yard halfback option pass from Brice Mertiff to Tim Van Horn.
The Bison would put three more scores on the board before the break. Smith fired his second scoring pass of the day, this one covering 32 yards to junior TE Jorge Laboy (New York, NY/Central Park East) late in the first quarter to move the Green and White back in front. Laboy hauled in a one-yard scoring pass from freshman QB Jeff Joyce (Pittsburgh, Pa./Baldwin) midway through the second quarter and with one minute left before halftime, freshman RB Eric Walker (New Brighton, Pa.) bulled in from seven yards out to make it 28-7 Bison.
Facing the three-touchdown deficit, Thiel’s offense went to the air in the second half. They started chipping away at the BC lead on a Bova to Hero Amano 11-yard TD aerial late in the third quarter, then moved within seven points on Jeremiah Wagner’s seven-yard scoring run with 9:06 to play in the fourth. The Tomcats got the ball back at their own 19 with 2:14 to play, but used just eight plays to score the tying touchdown on a six-yard TD toss from Bova to Van Horn with 48 seconds to play.
Bethany nearly had a chance to win it in regulation, as they drove to the Thiel 25, but turned the ball over on downs to send the game to overtime, just the second OT game in Bison history and the first since 1997 (29-23 loss to Waynesburg).
In the first extra period, the teams exchanged field goals, with BC freshman Evan Plescia (Strongsville, Ohio/Copley) nailing a 34-yard kick, but Thiel answering with a 37-yard boot from John Madeline. Thiel took their first lead of the game when Bova threw across the field to TE Dan Mackall for a 23-yard touchdown in the second OT. Bethany kept the game going when Walker scored on a four-yard run to even the score at 38.
Walker found the end zone for the third time in the game on a two-yard scoring run to open the next extra session. In college, teams must go for two-point conversions after two overtimes and the Bison’s conversion pass failed. The Tomcats drew even again when Bova threw a five-yard scoring strike to Van Horn, but the contest needed a fourth overtime when Thiel’s pass for the two-point conversion was incomplete.
Bova put the Tomcats ahead for good when he scampered 10 yards for the go-ahead score on a quarterback draw. Once again, they did not convert the two-point try, leaving the door open for the Bison to get the win. However, facing a third-and-six from the 21, Smith’s pass was intercepted by Thiel’s Matt Joy at the nine-yard line to end the longest game in Bethany and Thiel history. It also matched the longest game in Presidents’ Athletic Conference history, as Grove City and Waynesburg played through four overtimes in 2000.
The teams combined for more than 1,000 yards of total offense, with Thiel gaining 536 and Bethany totaling 514. Walker was the game’s top ground gainer, pounding out 105 yards and three scores on 27 carries.
Highlighting the Bethany aerial attack was Smith. His 30 completions were the second-most in a game in school history, while his 52 attempts was the third-highest total. Overall, he threw for 353 yards, the fourth-most by a BC signal caller ever, and two scores. Junior WR Matt Cruse (Naples, Fla./Barron Collier) grabbed 13 passes for 82 yards to tie the Bethany mark for most receptions in a game, while Laboy hauled in eight balls for 135 yards and a pair of TDs to tie that Bison single-game standard. McNeil also finished with six receptions for 84 yards and a touchdown.
The Bethany defense received a solid game from junior FS Nelson Mitzen (Waynesburg, Pa./Waynesburg Central), who made 11 solo tackles and had one interception. Junior CB Jermaine Washington (Naples, Fla.) also picked off a pass.
Bova was the top man for the Tomcats, throwing for 374 yards and four touchdowns while also gaining 67 on the ground and the winning TD. His top target was Van Horn, who gathered in 15 passes for 182 yards and a trio of touchdowns. Their defense was led by LB Bobby Shew with 12 stops, including nine solos.
The Bison head back on the road next week with a conference match-up at Westminster Saturday. The Titans (3-3, 1-2) were dealt a 63-26 loss Saturday at Waynesburg and will be looking to avenge a 41-21 defeat at Bethany from last season. Kickoff in New Wilmington is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.